Joe Walls was in his late thirties when he started to get dizzy spells. He felt exhausted as well. He was doing a FAS course at the time and when he came home in the evening he would be “incredibly tired” and only able to “crash out in front of the television”.
At first his doctor did not detect anything but on his second visit to the surgery his blood pressure was checked.
“It was way out of control. My doctor was horrified,” says Joe who is from the Inishowen Peninsula in Donegal but moved to Carraroe in 1998.
Further tests revealed very high levels of toxins in his blood and he was admitted to Letterkenny General Hospital. He spent two weeks there.
“I had been in relatively good health so was shocked to be admitted to hospital so quickly and to be told I had dangerously high blood pressure and had 20 per cent kidney failure. They believed it came from my uncontrolled blood pressure. They told me the damage was irreversible and it would continue to get worse over time.”
He says he was “incredibly shocked” by the news. “I couldn’t believe it, it was terribly frightening at the time. They suggested I go to Beaumont Hospital for a battery of tests - I spent two weeks there. They changed the drugs I was on and as a result of that I started to feel somewhat better.”
He had had to give up work earlier due to his illness but vowed to get a job as soon as he could. “I knew I would end up in dialysis. I had to attend regular hospital appointments and was on medication for 13 years. However, I decided to do the best I could. I remember saying once I got out of Beaumont I would get a job and build a new house in Carraroe. I got a job in security in Galway and things started to look up.”
Medical intervention, a healthy lifestyle and a restricted diet over the years managed to stave off dialysis until three years ago when his kidney function eventually declined to around 25 per cent. He became very tired and had a lot of fluid retention.
“When the doctor told me that we’d now be looking at dialysis I felt shocked. It was very daunting. But when I met the team I discovered I was in the hands of a very brilliant group of people in Merlin Park.”
Joe started dialysis in 2009 and has been receiving a form of home dialysis called CAPD for the past four years. This takes place seven nights a week over nine hours while he sleeps. The system works well for him, he says, and he has managed to adapt his lifestyle to fit in with his treatment.
“They train you how to use the machine, it’s quite a complicated system. You learn to set it up and dismantle it. You have to do it seven night a week. The home dialysis suits me best as I live 30 miles away [from the dialysis centre at Merlin Park Hospital]. I spend nine hours on the machine nightly, I sleep through it [the dialysis]. I continue to work [with ISS Security Services].”
Life changing operation
He says one of the risks of the type of dialysis he receives - peritoneal dialysis which uses a membrane inside one’s body as a filter to clear wastes and extra fluid - is contracting peritionitis. This is an inflammation of the peritoneum, the thin layer of tissue that lines the inside of the abdomen and surrounds and supports organs, such as the stomach and liver. It is caused by a bacterial or fungal infection and can rapidly spread into the blood and then on to the body’s organs and can be fatal if untreated, he explains.
“I’ve got it two or three times already and spent four or five days in hospital.”
Joe has been awaiting a kidney transplant for the past two years - he is one of 600 people on the national waiting list for this life changing operation.
“Organ donor week is coming up and people might not even think of filling in an organ donor card but it can make such a difference to someone’s life. It would be incredible, it would provide someone with a life changing experience.
“It would change my life dramatically. First of all you feel much healthier. It would mean the worries my wife has would be gone. If I wanted to visit relations in England I could. If I want to go anywhere I have to put in a notice for three to four weeks in advance to Baxters [dialysis equipment supplier]. You have to bring the machine with you. I went to Spain and I had to lug a big transformer with me.”
Despite his condition he remains very positive. “I live a full life, I try to keep it as normal as possible. But sometimes when the news is bad and you hear you are losing kidney function it can be pretty depressing. However, I feel I’m going to beat this, I grasp anything positive in it. If I were to get a transplant it would transform my life. My bag is packed and I’m ready to go. It would be better than winning the Lotto!”
Appeal for organ donors
Organ Donor Awareness Week kicks off on Saturday. The campaign, which aims to increase the number of organ donors and raise funds, will run until April 6.
Almost 2,800 people in Ireland are enjoying extended life as a result of receiving organ transplants. More than 600 people in this country are awaiting heart, lung, liver, kidney and pancreas transplants.
There are 101 people receiving haemodialysis treatment in Galway hospitals and 22 receiving dialysis treatment at home.
Eoin Madden, the PRO of the Galway Branch of the Irish Kidney Association, is appealing to people to carry an organ donor card and discuss with their loved ones their decision to donate in the event of their untimely death.
“Our association’s volunteers will be out on the streets and in shopping centres throughout the country, selling ‘forget me not flower’ emblems (the symbol of transplantation ), brooches, pens and shopping trolley discs. All proceeds will go towards the Irish Kidney Association’s aid for patients on dialysis and those patients fortunate enough to have received a kidney transplant.
“The programme includes the management of a 10 double room free accommodation facility for patients and their families in the grounds of Beaumont Hospital and holiday centres located in Tramore and Kerry, together with patient advocacy, advice, financial aid and rehabilitative work placement, health promotion and the provision of kidney patient information and education.”
Organ donor cards are available from pharmacies, GP surgeries and Citizen Information offices or by telephoning the Irish Kidney Association LoCall 1890 543639 or Freetext the word DONOR to 50050. People can also log onto www.ika.ie It is now possible to store an organ donor card, an ecard on Smart mobile phones. Simply search for ‘Donor ECard’ at the IPhone Store or Android Market Place.