A 20-year-old Dungiven man who had a heart transplant two years ago has made an emotional journey to meet hospital staff who cared for him during the life changing operation.
Ryan O’Connor was born with congenital heart disease. He received the transplant in Freeman Hospital in Newcastle in November 2012. Aged just 18, he tragically lost both his legs just days after the operation due to complications.
In the two years since, Ryan has learned how to walk again using prosthetic legs. He’s also learning how to drive and is undertaking media studies. However, his studies are on hold as Ryan has to undergo a further operation - a femoral artery bypass - to deal with the pain in his left leg.
It’s a blow and a huge worry, said Ryan, who hopes the operation will be his last surgery.
“I want to get back walking as soon as possible,” said Ryan. “I hope I can get the surgery before Christmas, and get it over with. It’s a worry, but I suppose every surgery is.”
Ryan visited Freeman Hospital with mum Donna, aunt Tricia, nana Mary, Denise Friel and best friend Ciaran Farren on the annivesary of his transplant.
“Freeman, like the Royal Victoria Hospital and Altnagelvin, is like a home to me. I’ve spent so much time in them since I was a child. Going back to Freeman was a social visit to say ‘thank you’ to everyone who cared for me,” says Ryan. “Everything came flooding back, and I suppose with the way the surgery went, it was bittersweet. It was emotional.”
Ryan described the last two years as “crazy, full of ups and downs”, but said it was always going to be that way. The highs have been getting his prosthetic legs, learning to play wheelchair hurling and basketball with Ulster GAA, and becoming involved as patron with the organ donation campaign ‘Opt for Life’ with former Derry footballer, Joe Brolly.
“Right now, until I am back walking again, my life is on hold,” said Ryan. “I just want to push on and not look back. Hopefully this surgery will be my last and, once it’s over, I’ll get to be normal.”
Mum Donna said Ryan is “an inspiration”, and faces every challenge with courage and never complains.
“When you think back to two years ago, you think where has the time gone? So much has happened,” said Donna. “We’re all very proud of Ryan and everything he has come through and everything he has accomplished. We want to thank everyone for their support. Everyone who Ryan has met, and all the people who have cared for him have helped shape his life. They’re like family.”