County Galway resident, Mary Verbruggan, is in a unique position to help launch Organ Donor Awareness Week.
Having had a kidney transplant, she is also on the waiting list for a pancreas transplant, and this week she is urging all people who are considering donating organs to let their loved ones know their wishes.
Mary, who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of Type 1 diabetes when she was a teenager, learned about 19 years ago her kidneys were beginning to deteriorate, but it was in March 2016 that she was told she needed to be on the kidney transplant list.
Although prepared for that day, she discovered the wait would be long because she was blood group type 0 positive. However her younger brother Tom immediately offered.
“A few days later he rang me and asked if I had put him on the list. I told him no, because he didn’t know what he was getting himself into. It’s isn’t like, ‘Here take my kidney.’”
However Tom recalled the death of his mother aged 51. Mary and her three other siblings had stood around the bed, feeling hopeless. This time, however, Tom could to do something.
Although overwhelmed with the offer, she did not not hesitate to accept.
“There is no choice for something like this. And as you keep going through it yourself, you ask if he even realises what he is offering here and that there may be risks to his health. It is a very long process for both patient and donor with batteries of test. It was a year and a half before I realised Tom was my donor. I learned that in August 2017 and the surgery was in October of that year. Both Tom and I were becoming frustrated at how slow things were, but it also gives you time to think things through.”
The surgeon, Tom Gallagher, said the kidney was a good match, but her recovery was slow. While her kidney would last about five to six years, she also needed two stents in her heart.
“The diabetes is still plodding along, doing its best to bring me down. And because of this I am now on the list for a pancreatic transplant.”
The transplant brought Mary and her brother closer together. “Before this, my brother and I were already close, but I now feel like there is a part of Tom inside of me. It bonded our two families together. I feel for his wife Aisling and Karl, they are the forgotten ones, the people who stand by helpless.
Mary (59 ), who lives in Oughterard with husband Karl, says she lives in the today rather than in the tomorrow.
“Many people live in the future. They are ignoring what is really happening now. We only have today and we should focus on that. Whatever happens tomorrow can be dealt with then. It is a mental adjustment you have to make.”
A fabulous gift
Mary Verbruggen said she could not have done it without the support of her family.
“You have to honour the donor. I honour Tom every day. Tom gave me this fabulous gift. It is now my job to protect and nurture that gift, and to do that I have to stay physically healthy and mentally healthy.
“I don’t know who will be my pancreas donor in the future. But I will think of that person every single day and I will never stop thinking about them.”
“My first transplant was a living donor. My life was not a very good life, my health had so deteriorated it wasn’t really worth living until I got the transplant, but my big fear was if anything happened to Tom. This time what I wish for my donor is that they got a card or ticked their licence, but they also go home and tell their families this is what they want to happen.
“That may sound very selfish, but if you are faced with this question, wouldn’t you want them to know what your wishes are?”
Organ Donor Awareness Week 2019 takes place from March 30 until April 6, organised by the Irish Kidney Association (IKA ) and supported by the Organ Donation Transplant Ireland (ODTI ).
The focus is to remind individuals to talk to their families about their organ donation wishes and keep the reminders of their decision available by carrying the organ donor card permitting Code 115 to be included on their driver’s licence, and having the ‘digital organ donor card’ APP on their smartphone.
The Galway launch takes place in the Menlo Park Hotel today at 7.30pm. Guest speakers at the event will include Pauline May, Organ Donation Nurse Manager for Saolta Group, Galway University Hospital as well as Consultant Nephrologist Niamh Kieran, Galway University Hospital.