Ballykelly woman’s gift of life from her brother

Alana with her daughter, Eva and her brother, Liam. (Photo: Shrona Smyth)
Alana with her daughter, Eva and her brother, Liam. (Photo: Shrona Smyth)

When Alana Smyth from Ballykelly, ended up in A&E after she fell on glass in 2001, little did she know how her life would change.

A blood test revealed abnormalities, which meant a five-day stay in hospital for more tests and scans.

Alana, Eva, Rory and Finbar.

Alana, Eva, Rory and Finbar.

Alana was then diagnosed with Reflex Nephropathy; a condition in which the kidneys are damaged by the backward flow of urine into the kidney.

Both of her kidneys were badly scarred, one of them was smaller than the other and her kidney function was at 23 per cent but “it still didn’t make much of an impact by knowing this as I felt well.” she said.

“I didn’t feel sick. None of it scared me as, most of the time at my appointments, the doctor told me how well my body was coping with this disease. I was happy enough with that and I got on with my life and work. I never felt unwell, I trained at the gym, I ate well and enjoyed how my life was progressing.”

Six years on, Alana asked about having a family which is when she “got the sinking feeling about this disease.” She was told she wouldn’t be able to have any children which, she said, “absolutely broke my heart.”

It’s important to tell your family about your organ donation decision. What have you got to lose by signing up?

Alana Smyth

The only chink of light was when she was told if she had a transplant from a living donor, it may be possible to go on to have children, but it was no guarantee.

In 2008, Alana met the transplant co-ordinator of Belfast City Hospital, Pauline Hazlett, at an Organ Donation Information Evening in Altnagelvin. They got chatting and discussed the option of a living donor transplant.

“As it happened, my brother Liam had been saying to me for a while about giving me one of his,” noted Alana.

Not one for discussing her condition with family, when talking to Pauline she soon realised the importance of having the conversation about organ donation with loved ones.

“I was talking to Liam shortly after that evening and he said he would call Pauline and get the ball rolling. My daddy also offered to get tested, but he wasn’t allowed to as he’s a diabetic. So that’s when we set off on our journey to the discovery of finding out that Liam was a match.”

The process went on for more than a year, at the same time as Alana found out her kidneys were deteriorating fairly quickly. In October 2009, Alana had a Peritoneal Dialysis Catheter inserted for dialysis. Her doctors expected her kidneys to fail by Christmas 2009.

“In November 2009, my kidney function was 10 per cent. It was an anxious time but, later that month, we got the call to tell us Liam was a match. I was just delighted,” she recalled.

At that time, living donor transplants were only done once a month. It was a waiting game.

Christmas and New Year passed but in February 2010, Alana found out her transplant would take place on March 10, 2010.

“Our parents were there, it was surreal. My mammy was being consoled by me just before our Liam was being taken down for his surgery. It didn’t seem like that long until he was back out and in recovery. Then it was my turn. Smiling from ear to ear, to my mum and dad, the doctors wheeled me down to surgery.

“Everything went according to plan. I woke up, sore and dazed, but it was done, I had my transplant.”

Both Alana and Liam recovered well,and Alana was back at work part time after six weeks, however, she suffer ed some side effects from the concoction of medication she was taking to keep rejection at bay, from tremors to depression.

“I fought back emotionally and got through it,.

“I was lucky it wasn’t rejection. I wasn’t prepared for my next challenge; I found out I was pregnant. I couldn’t believe it, I cried so many happy tears, I was over the moon. Considering I had been told back in 2007 that this was doubtful. In July 2012, my little chicken leg was born, a beautiful baby girl, Eva. She made history. She was the first child born in Northern Ireland to a Living Donor Kidney Transplant Recipient.”

Alana and Eva and Liam have since been involved in promoting organ donation with the Belfast City Hospital.

“Living Donor Transplantation has increased hugely since I had my transplant. There is a lot of uncertainty and anxiety around how to approach this conversation, for me it was worth it.

“It is important to the people that care about you to talk if they are willing to put themselves forward. Let them know everything you do and enjoy the process,” she smiled, speaking as National Kidney Month comes to an end.

“There aren’t enough people registered on the Organ Donation Register and thousands of people die while waiting for a transplant. It only takes two minutes to register and it is something that nearly everyone should take the time to do to help change someone’s life.

“It’s important to tell your family about your organ donation decision. What have you got to lose by signing up? It’s something positive for your loved ones to hold on to, giving the gift of life.”

Both Alana and Liam are keeping well. Liam has four children and was recently married.

“Myself, Eva, Rory and my stepson, Finbar, are making loads of memories and Rory and I will tie the knot in August 2018.

“My transplant gave me a future and a better quality of life and I have a wonderful family to treasure, all thanks to my brother.”

To find out more and how to register go online at organdonation.nhs.uk