Father’s transplant is gift of life for son

Sean McKeever and his dad Gerard. INLV0816-161KDR

Sean McKeever and his dad Gerard. INLV0816-161KDR

A Limavady man who received a kidney transplant from his father has spoken out to encourage others to think about organ donation and talk about it with their loved ones.

Sean McKeever from Limavady was devastated when he found out last May that he needed a transplant.

Sean just after the transplant. Photo: Paul Mullan.

Sean just after the transplant. Photo: Paul Mullan.

Sean, now aged 29, says once his family heard the news they were tested immediately to see if any of them were a match.

Both Sean’s father, Gerard, and his sister Patricia were good matches, but the hospital decided Gerard would be the suitable donor.

“I was over the moon, finally to know I would be getting a transplant,” says Sean. “It was a brilliant feeling.”

Up until the transplant at Belfast City Hospital in November, Sean was getting dialysis four times a week, for three hours each time. While the staff in Altnagelvin’s Renal Unit were fantastic, the effects of the treatment were gruelling.

I hope it encourages others to think about organ donation. You don’t think it can happen to you, but it can.

Sean McKeever

On November 30th last year, Sean underwent the transplant.

“I was really looking forward to it but, at the same time, it was nerve wracking and I just wanted to get it done,” says Sean.

As for Gerard, in preparation for the operation, he took to the roads, running, and to the gym, and lost weight.

“Daddy went in first and then I went in that afternoon. I remember us just telling each other ‘good luck’ and ‘thanks’. What else do you say?” says Sean.

Sean McKeever (centre) at home with family members Eileen (mum), Micheal (brother), Patricia (sister) and dad Gerard at home following the operation last November which saw Sean receive one of his fathers kidney's. INLV0816-168KDR Photo: Ken Reay

Sean McKeever (centre) at home with family members Eileen (mum), Micheal (brother), Patricia (sister) and dad Gerard at home following the operation last November which saw Sean receive one of his fathers kidney's. INLV0816-168KDR Photo: Ken Reay

“I remember coming back that night and they wheeled me past daddy, and all my family were there around him. It was a bit of a blur, but I remember giving them a half wave.”

Sean suffered a bit of a setback after the transplant, and spent seven weeks in total in hospital, including Christmas.

But last month, Sean came home and says he is feeling great; no more dialysis and just a couple of check-ups a week at clinics in Belfast. He hopes soon he will be referred to a local clinic and to get back to work.

“Now I have so much more energy,” says Sean, a quantity surveyor with WDL UK in Aghanloo, outside Limavady. “I’m feeling great.”

Sean and his girlfriend, Ciara McFeely.

Sean and his girlfriend, Ciara McFeely.

Gerard, who is back at work at Drenagh Sawmills and keeping great, says: “Once we found out we got tested. You don’t give it a second thought. It was a long shot, but you’re hoping against hope some one of us will be match, and preferably me. It was a big relief Sean was able to get it from someone in his family and not have to be on a waiting list.”

Sean says he has a new found respect for his health, and says people are lucky to have the NHS.

“You don’t realise how good the doctors and nurses are, and how much support you get from them. To know they are there and we have them, we are lucky to have an NHS,” says Sean.

Both Sean and Gerard urge families to have a conversation about organ donation with their loved ones. They believe there should be an ‘opt out’ system, such as that campaigned for by living donor, GAA star Joe Brolly.

“It was heartbreaking at the time, to watch Sean go through the dialysis,” said Gerard. “I think it should be compulsory to donate unless you opt out.”

Sean and his family have been overwhelmed by the support they have received, prior to and after the operation.

They say the support from immediate family, Sean’s girlfriend Ciara McFeely, their friends and both of their employers, has been amazing.

They also want to thank everyone in the community for their support at a summer fundraiser at the Alexander Arms in Limavady, which raised £1,000 for the Renal Unit in Altnagelvin.

They can’t say enough about the excellent care they received from the medical professionals in the City Hospital and Altnagelvin.

“It’s unbelievable what they do in The City, more than 100 transplants last year. It has really opened my eyes,” says Gerard.

Sean hopes that by talking about his transplant he will encourage others to think about donating, and help save lives.

“I was really touched daddy did this. I know he feels a lot better for doing it, and so do I. It’s changed my life,” says Sean. “I hope it encourages others to think about organ donation. You don’t think it can happen to you, but it can.”