As Christmas presents go, the gift of a kidney is something even Santa would struggle with. So when Fergal Conneely’s brother offered him just that, he was taken aback.
Fergal says: ‘I thought I took it up wrong – I asked, him, “What did you say?” And he said that he’d give me a kidney if I didn’t get one in next few months. I couldn’t believe it.’
Younger brother Frank, who works as a Garda in Tuam, was back in the family home for Christmas when he made the life-changing offer. In May of this year, the donation finally went ahead in Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, bringing to an end almost 10 years of dialysis for Fergal.
The brothers grew up in Erislannan, where Fergal, 45, still lives with his partner Bernie and children Amanda, Neil, and Grace. A former paramedic, he had to leave his job when his kidney failure made him too sick to work.
At first, he could do dialysis at home, but treatment then moved to Merlin Park, which involved travelling to Galway three or four times a week.
For more than six years, it was, he says, ‘a lot of travelling. I could never go on holidays, I couldn’t even stay in a hotel for two nights – I had to do dialysis every second day. I was really tied.’
Fergal also had regular trips to Dublin to be assessed for the donor list – with 3.30am starts – and was limited in what he could eat and drink. His restricted ‘renal diet’ ruled out many foods his body couldn’t process, but it was the strict 1.5-litre-a-day fluid limit that really tested him.
Fergal says: ‘I can drink as much as I want now, that’s the biggest difference I’ve noticed. Even on a warm day, walking, I couldn’t have a drink. Or sometimes you’d be thirsty and have a glass of water, but then you couldn’t have a cup of tea. When you had too much fluid, it wasn’t worth it; you’d feel sick and feel the pressure on your heart.’
Now, recovered from post-surgery complications, Fergal eats and drink what he likes, and feels ‘very good, with a lot of energy. I have an extra four days a week, and I’m not sick and tired [like I used to be] after the dialysis.’
He still has to travel to Galway twice a month to monitor his anti-rejection medication, but says ‘it’s nothing’ compared to his old routine. Fergal’s new kidney should last him at least 15-20 years.
Fergal hopes his own story will raise awareness of how organ donation can transform life for someone with a chronic, long-term illnesses. There were 190 kidney donations in
Ireland last year, with most coming from deceased donors. Carrying a donor card is a simple way of expressing this wish, ahead of a proposed ‘opt-out’ system in the future. Donor cards are available in pharmacies, medical centres, and from the Irish Kidney Association.
Frank recently returned to work and Fergal is ‘doing a bit of farming’ and enjoying his new levels of energy. As for his brother’s gift, Fergal says: ‘I still can’t get over it. But he says he won’t give me another one!’