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Live life then give life

An Cailín Rua

An Cailín Rua
Anne-Marie Flynn

Something I found myself pondering as I lay on the couch dosed with the lurgy over Christmas was organ donation. These things were unrelated, although given the state of me, if someone had come knocking with a new pair of lungs, I probably wouldn’t have turned them away. Rather, the news that Cystic Fibrosis campaigner Orla Tinsley had recently undergone a double lung transplant in the US was what got me thinking.
I’ve never met Orla, but her determination, resilience and positivity in the face of CF means I’ve been a long-time fan. Her articulacy as a journalist, even when desperately ill, calmly describing how poor hospital facilities endanger people with CF, and explaining the importance of preventing cross-contamination was hugely insightful, and her campaigning eventually led to the establishment of a dedicated Cystic Fibrosis unit in Dublin.
Orla had moved to the US and was studying in the University of Columbia when her health deteriorated, to the point where she was on life support, urgently awaiting a double lung transplant. Six times she received calls to say there were lungs available, only to find they were unsuitable. Seven was a charm and Orla is now in recovery, documenting her progress on social media. Eating. Walking. Breathing. The things most of us take for granted every day.
Orla has made many references to the generosity of her donor and her donor’s family. With good reason; deciding to become an organ donor is a big deal, but very few decisions could be bigger than the selfless one made by a donor’s family in the immediate aftermath of their sudden death.
We’re pretty good when it comes to organ donation in Ireland, with one of the highest donation rates in the world. An average of 23 organ donations takes place monthly. All organ donations in Ireland are from people who have died in hospital while on a ventilator.
Brain stem tests are carried out by two doctors independent of the transplantation to confirm an absence of brain function. Organs are not removed for transplantation unless a recipient has been identified. Even if you indicate your intention to become an organ donor after your death, your next of kin will always be asked for consent before donation proceeds. Consent is never presumed, even if a donor card has been signed.
Minster for Health Simon Harris has indicated his desire to introduce an opt-out system (as opposed to our current opt-in system). However, as the situation now stands, if you feel strongly about donating, you need to have that conversation with your loved ones. Do it today.  
Give what you can
Now, please don’t laugh, but something that comes to mind when I think about organ donation is the notion of the afterlife. I’m not religious, so the idea of heaven and indeed hell seems pretty far-fetched to me, but I still can’t help hoping that after we take our earthly leave, something else awaits. (Because really, is this it?!) And even though I’m adamant that anything worth harvesting should be immediately put to better use after I die, there’s a tiny, illogical part of me that fears waking up and finding myself in another realm without a vital organ. But they do say you should only worry and take action about the things you can control, so I’ve made my wishes clear. A donor card it is. Live life, then give life.
If the prospect of organ donation is a bridge too far, why not help by giving blood? The idea can be daunting, but the experience is strangely enjoyable; the Irish Blood Transfusion Team are unfailingly friendly and welcoming, and as well as feeling good about yourself, you get free pens, as many free bags of crisps as you can stuff into yourself – and you can give yourself a free pass from the gym into the bargain. Alternatively, you can look at donating platelets, or even bone marrow; the latter is a more invasive process but can enable a stem cell transplant, which can be a treatment option for up to 80 diseases and disorders, including leukaemia.
There’s no time like the present - request a donor card at www.ika.ie/card or learn more about giving blood at www.giveblood.ie.