Dungiven support 
for ‘hero’ Ryan

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The Dungiven community is rallying to support a local teenage “hero” who suffered a “tragic blow” after a life changing operation three weeks ago.

The Dungiven community is rallying to support a local teenage “hero” who suffered a “tragic blow” after a life changing operation three weeks ago.

Brave Ryan O’Connor, aged 18, was born with congenital heart disease and went through his first heart procedure just days after he was born to save his life.

During his life Ryan has had many other operations but, unfortunately over this past year his heart started to deteriorate.

Ryan travelled to the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle to have a pacemaker fitted, but the procedure could not prevent Ryan’s condition deteriorating further. Ryan was “honoured” to carry the Olympic Torch in June this year and while he was clearly unwell, Ryan made his family, friends and whole community proud. Ryan went on the transplant list and was admitted to Altnagelvin Hospital in September before being transferred to the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle. He had spent a tough 10 weeks in hospital, supported by his parents and “the amazing staff and transplant team”.

On Friday 23rd November the call that Ryan and his family were waiting on finally came; a donor heart had become available.

“It was a very anxious time for everyone as Ryan and his family waited to see if it was a healthy heart and a match,” said Ryan’s Aunt Tricia Harkin. “It was ‘all systems go’ was the next message through.”

The day of the transplant was an “anxious one for Ryan’s family, friends and indeed the whole community of Dungiven,” said Tricia. “Ryan was never fazed by it. He was looking forward to his new life, his new start and as he has said to many people, ‘to kick a football’.”

After many hours Ryan came through his surgery, and the transplant team were pleased that all went according to plan, said Tricia.

During the early hours of Monday November 26, complications began for Ryan. His heart arrested and Ryan was in a critical condition. He was put on a heart bypass machine and surgeons fought hard to stabilise Ryan. The next few days were tough for Ryan but he remained strong, said Tricia.

“The Vascular Surgery Team were called to assess Ryan’s legs as there was a lack of circulation to his legs during his heart arrest. Surgeons were concerned at this stage, but the worst fears were only confirmed last week.

“Ryan’s legs had suffered irreparable tissue damage and the news that his legs could not be saved shocked and saddened everyone who has known him, and even those who have never met Ryan. It was a tragic blow for his family, but more so for Ryan himself who had fought so hard to get this far and had all his hopes set on his ‘new life.’”

Ryan went through major surgery again on Friday December 7th, to remove his legs only two weeks after he received his new heart. His family say they are overwhelmed by the amount of support for their son.

“Ryan has remained so strong through this and his family and friends are so proud of him and love him very, very much. We know that there is a long road ahead with many bumps, but we are all determined to provide Ryan with a quality of life that he deserves. He is a true hero and inspiration to all,” said Tricia. “Ryan’s parents, Donna and Declan, his sister Eimar and brothers Kevin, Feargal, Niall and Tiernan want to thank everyone, everywhere for all their kind words and support during this difficult time.”

The generous Dungiven Community have decided to rally together and fundraise for Ryan, organising a walk to raise funds. It is planned for Sunday 30th December at 1pm: £5 per adult to walk, £2 for over 12’s, £1 for under 12’s. Organisers say all other sponsorship is greatly appreciated, and sponsored forms can be retrieved from shops throughout Dungiven town.