GREAT SUPPORT Kevin Devitte is pictured with his wife Carmel in the Mater Hospital
FOUR years on from a successful heart transplant, Kevin Devitte (66) is still battling through multiple setbacks which have affected his ability to fully recover. While his new heart is functioning brilliantly, a suppressed immune system has left him susceptible to illness while battling a succession of other problems and complications along the way.
Originally from Las Vegas, Mayo is home to Kevin following a chance encounter in 1998 with hairdresser Carmel Carroll in Westport, who later became his wife in April 2001.
Following the transplant, he bounced back remarkably well, walking within four days and arriving home 30 days after the surgery. However, he returned to the hospital five days later after he picked up multiple viruses due to his rather poor immune system. Throughout the two year period that followed between 2016 and 2017 he was in and out of hospital as a result of his immune system and the vasculitis which he developed in his legs and he described as ‘your worst pain multiplied by ten’.
In late 2017 he was given the news that he had basal cell carcinoma, which is a type of skin cancer that was found on his left arm. In the early part of 2018 he had surgery to remove the cancer which was successful. Now over a year on, he recently had a one-year check up which showed up clear indicating that there is no cancer there.
“Back in August, last year, I knocked my toes against my bed stand and usually that doesn’t mean anything but with my diabetes, stubbing my toes caused them to receive a gangrene infection which meant that I had to remove a couple of my toes before it spread to the whole foot. As a result of the surgery, I have these special shoes which are like sandals and they take all the pressure off my toes.” Kevin Devitte told The Mayo News last week.
Organ Donor Awareness Week
With Organ Donor Awareness Week taking place last week, the Irish Kidney Association’s main objective was 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.
Knowing more than most, the importance of organ donation, Kevin said: “I don’t know the person who’s heart I got but I made sure to send them a thank you letter. I don’t know why, but I really didn’t want to know the person who had donated their heart. But I did find out that he did have a donor card and the guy next to me who was getting operated at the same time got his lungs, meaning that he saved at least two lives by his death. I am a firm believer that organs should not be buried, they should be kept above ground in order to save lives. The organ donation card is easy to hold in your wallet for example, but eventhough you have a donor card, it doesn’t necessarily mean your organs will be used because your family has to give the okay and that can be difficult for some people to come to terms with. This is why it’s important to discuss it with the family members who are going to be asked to give the okay.
“With current Irish laws surrounding organ donation, I can’t find a friend and have them donate an organ like a kidney, it has to be a relative. I can go to places like Northern Ireland, England or France and have it done by getting someone to help you and its called altruistic kidney donation. They recently made this law legal in Wales and it doubled their donations by 100 percent within the first year. In Ireland there was only 81 people who donated organs last year which lead to 234 transplants. Currently, there’s about 550 people in Ireland waiting for transplants and these people are waiting in hospital beds for months and months as a result of the lack of organ donations.”
Since returning from hospital last year, Kevin has had three falls, two of which weren’t bad, resulting in minor bruising, but the third fall was more serious.
“Because I landed straight on my back, I compressed quite a few disks in my spine. As a result of this accident, I had a dexa-scan done on my back and they found that I had osteoporosis, to add to all the other issues that I have. Before all these health setbacks, I was walking ten kilometres everyday but now I try to walk two kilometres with sticks, which takes a long time - but I’m still trying.
“To tell you the truth, I’ve never got depressed, the staff at the hospitals have been fantastic. The staff in the dialysis unit in Castlebar were some of the best people I have ever met and they would be friends on the outside, eventhough they are of the younger generation. I would also like to thank Dr Jarfra who is the instigator in trying to get me a new kidney and all the people of Westport, who have been great. My wife has been a star throughout this whole thing, giving me the motivation to get through all this. She came up to Dublin over 80 weeks in a row on the train when I was sick, which meant a lot. It’s not easy going through this, but it’s made easier if you have good friends.”
Kevin is still hopeful that some day soon he will hear that a kidney donor will come forward and things will get back to normal.
“I know there may be complications given the circulation problems in my legs and my feet but it is improving each day due to the walking and exercising I’m trying to do. I expect to be put on the list for a kidney transplant in the next three to four months, once I have had a couple of biopsies, which will be done in mid May. But, for the next few months I plan to advocate that altruistic kidney donation should become legal in Ireland because it’s so important.”
Kevin continues to undergo dialysis treatment three times a week for four hours at a time. He has spent 702 days in hospital but now that he’s home, he remains hopeful for a kidney transplant which he said might enable him to fulfill one of his dreams - a hiking trip in New Zealand.
MORE Organ donor cards can also be obtained by phoning the Irish Kidney Association on 01 6205306 or free text the word DONOR to 50050. You can also visit www.ika.ie/get-a-donor-card or download a free ‘digital organ donor card’ app to your phone.