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Renal Unit will continue to play life-saving role in its new surrounds

Thursday, 6 July 2017

KIDNEY transplants are life-saving - and with 87 transplant patients on their books and 64 more on dialysis three times a week - the 24-bed renal unit at the new Omagh Hospital and Primary Care Complex is a key factor in the ongoing assessment and treatment of this challenging condition.

Two West Tyrone men who have benefitted from transplants are John Hegarty, (40), from The Glebe near Sion Mills and Graham McCormick, (38), originally from Newtownstewart, now living at Mountjoy, Omagh.

Later this month they are off to represent Northern Ireland at the British Transplant Games in Hamilton, Scotland, and keen to prove to everyone, as well as themselves, that normal service in their lives has resumed!

John will be taking part in darts, snooker, golf, swimming and a 5k., while Graham will be competing in the shot putt, 10-pin bowling, the 5k, badminton, football and snooker.

Both have come through their own personal battles with kidney troubles to enjoy a new lease of life. This week they have joined the campaign to make sure the wider community is aware of the benefits of organ donation and how donating something like a kidney can actually be a lot simpler that it looks!

Back in September 1998 John was the average young man who worked hard, enjoyed his free time with friends and a few pints and really didn't have a care in the world. But things were changing.

"I began to bloat up and sometimes I was so swollen, I looked like I had been out fighting the night before - even one of the girls at work thought I had a drink problem I looked so bad!"

Confused and feeling unwell, John decided to go and see a doctor and that started what was to become a life-changing experience.

"By January 1999 I was on dialysis. At first they weren't sure what was wrong. Then they thought my immune system was attacking my kidney, but further tests revealed it was a gene that was causing my kidney problems and since then four other members of my family have had to have transplants."

John spent four years on dialysis which meant getting treatment for four-and-a-half hours a day, three times a week. This was a whole new way of life, a major challenge to eating habits and routines and outlook in general.

"Thank God I was able to get a transplant at the start of 2003 and I haven't looked back since."

He received his new kidney as a result of an unfortunate motorcycle accident in England. It just so happened he was in hospital to get blood taken when he was told there was a possibility there could be kidney match for him on the way.

"Thankfully it proved a match and I was able to proceed. The build-up was easier than I thought - getting used to the new life proved a little harder. I had to adjust back to normal life and at times you could get a wee bit down. I had a routine when I was on dialysis and everything was done for me then, all of a sudden, I had a kidney and I was back in the real world worrying about what was going to happen down the line and if I could I get a job again. It can all hit you at the one time. Things were difficult for the first six months but once I got a job and started working and had new routines, I wasn't so overwhelmed," he said.

John is full of praise for the staff at the Renal Unit and the caring and professional way they look after all their patients.

"They are friendly and interested in your recovery. I love meeting them every time I'm at the hospital and they are part and parcel of making this place so good," he said.

He was also eager to make sure everyone was aware of the importance of organ donation and especially the fact that it no longer tooka tragedy for a kidney to become available.

"Thankfully now there are more live transplants. People can donate a kidney if it matches. There's a lot of illnesses out there that you can't do anything about, but this is one something can be done about - it's giving someone the gift of life," he said.

John is now 40, working, married, bringing up a family, paying bills, doing all the normal things.

" A transplant give you the opportunity to look at life very differently and I've learned you only get one life so you have to make the most of it," he added.

 

Graham McCormick's story is a little different but still has a similar outcome. He was diagnosed with a chronic kidney disease called Alport Syndrome when he was only nine years old.

It had already affected two uncles, a cousin and his brother before he had to get a transplant and not so long ago his aunt also had to receive treatment. He explains his problem also came from a faulty gene which was carried by the females in the family but ended up giving the males the kidney trouble.

"I had no trouble up until my early 20s. I enjoyed an active life and played football like everyone else. Then I became lethargic, blood pressure went up, cholesterol levels increased and I wasn't the same. I was 30 when told I needed a new kidney as it was now functioning below eight percent of what it should have been"

Graham was receiving ADP - automated peritoneal dialysis - for eight hours a night for just over three years.

As the increasing need for a new kidney grew but no match coming forward, his wife, Marise, agreed to donate her kidney and while it matched it wasn't ideal but because it was part of a pool of three couples that donated, a match was eventually discovered five years ago and, once again, a life was transformed.

"I was only in hospital for a week and when I got out I felt completely different, it was a new lease of life but still I had to take things easy for a while - I was still a patient and still recovering."

The couple have gone hill walking all over Ireland - something that would have been impossible before this. Graham was also keen to make sure people knew how easy it was to become a donor.

"It's good to go and get tested to see if you are suitable. It's a personal choice I know but when you realise the new life it can give, it's well worth doing. You certainly appreciate life," he said.

Graham now visits the unit every four months for check-ups and is doing very well....not to mention the fact he's out running twice a week too!

Nurse Una McDonagh, who works at the unit, said the opportunity to help someone with kidney problems was easier now than ever.

"There are a lot of people on dialysis whose families probably don't realise they can donate a kidney to them. You can live and enjoy a perfectly healthy life on one kidney and the preparation for this will be the best medical you've ever gone through as everything is checked to make sure you are suitable.

"Both John and Graham are living example of the success of the transplant service. Anyone interested in becoming a donor can contact us at the hospital and we will put them in the right direction," she said.

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