DCSIMG

New heart, new start for brave Ryan

(2002SL02) Photo: Stephen Latimer

(2002SL02) Photo: Stephen Latimer

If anyone knows the meaning of the saying ‘life is precious’ it’s Dungiven lad Ryan O’Connor.

If anyone knows the meaning of the saying ‘life is precious’ it’s Dungiven lad Ryan O’Connor.

The 18-year-old is home after spending more than three gruelling months in Freeman Hospital in Newcastle where he underwent a life changing heart transplant. Devastatingly, following complications, both of Ryan’s legs were amputated, but the remarkably brave young man brushes off any hint of pity or sympathy. The way he sees it, he has been given a “new life” and he told Journal county reporter, SHEENA JACKSON - who has been following his journey since he was an Olympic torch bearer last summer - how he intends to live it to the full and has his sights set on the Transplant Games in Sheffield later this year.

Since Ryan was born, his mum Donna jokes there was never anything straightforward about him.

Just a couple of days old, the infant born with congenital heart disease had his first life saving surgery.

Since then he has battled further operations, and two years ago his condition started to deteriorate.

Talk of a transplant came up, and Ryan was assessed to see if he would be suitable.

Not wanting to get his hopes up, the pragmatic Ryan still hoped one day soon he’d get “the call” to say they’d found him a match.

“It was funny,” says Ryan. “I was talking to the nurse in the hospital in Newcastle and I said: ‘Any chance of getting me a new heart?’, as a joke.

“Then, just a few hours later, I was told there was a possibility of getting a new heart.”

Barely able to sleep that night, Ryan still kept thinking it wasn’t going to be a match, but the next day it was confirmed.

“I was anxious going into theatre but, once I got on the table, I was calm and ready for it,” recalls Ryan of that November day.

Given all the blows that hit Ryan after the transplant, in particular the loss of both legs, he is ready for his new life.

It won’t be easy; he knows that and admits he has days when he feels down.

He also suffers phantom pains, the sensation where he still feels as if he has his legs and feet, but Ryan isn’t giving up.

He faces a tough period of rehabilitation, where he will spend Monday to Friday away from his family but, after that, he has his sights set on the Transplant Games in Sheffield later this year.

He wants to see what he has to do and what’s possible for him to compete in the Games in 2014.

Ryan believes everything he has been through in his young life, while sent to test him, is also a sign to inspire others.

“I’m still trying to get over it,” he says. “There are days I get upset, but I’ll be getting new legs and I’ll be able to do anything, so it’s not the end of the world.”

As for his parents Donna and Declan, bringing Ryan home was a nervous time.

At the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle help was the touch of a buzzer away, but they’ve found that with each day things get a little easier.

They’ve been out and about, had a steady stream of visitors, and Ryan has been welcomed with open arms everywhere.

His siblings can’t do enough for him, and his friends have been great.

“We have fantastic family and friends. We are very lucky,” says Donna.

 

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