Cahal McCloskey has always been close to his dad, Frank.
When he left school, the Dungiven lad joined his father - a well- known sheep dealer - in the family business.
The father and son team worked by each other’s side each day and got on well, knowing each other inside out.
Their bond, however, has become even closer in the past year and a half.
In October 2011, Cahal, gave his father a life-changing gift: a “second chance at life” when he donated one of his kidneys to him.
“I don’t see it as heroic, or anything like that. I know it was a good thing to do and I have no regrets at all,” says 29-year-old Cahal, with a huge smile.
The journey that led to Cahal’s selfless act started seven years ago when Frank, now aged 58, started dialysis.
Prior to that Frank, who regularly travelled the length and breadth of the country for markets, used to feel tired a lot. His kidneys were deteriorating and he was put on dialysis five years ago, at home and at hospital.
“It was never something I got used to,” says Frank.
In 2010, Frank’s three children - Cahal, Nuala and Siobhan - told their mum they wanted to get tested to see if they were a match for their dad.
It was a “lovely and overwhelming” moment for mum, Bernie, to see the courage of her children who would do anything for their father.
“It was very emotional,” says Bernie, “but Frank knew nothing about it.”
When the results came back, it was Cahal who was a match for his dad.
“It was a strange feeling, but I didn’t have time to really think about it because of work,” says Cahal.
When Frank was told the news “there was a bit of a silence,” he says.
“I was shocked. You’re feared if something goes wrong,” Frank admits, “but I suppose it’s natural to worry.”
Both men went through a series of tests and thought it would be some time before the operation would take place.
Turned out it was much quicker and, within four months, they had packed their bags for the City Hospital in Belfast for surgery on October 31.
They caused no fuss, told very few people, and drove themselves to the hospital. Up until the day before, Cahal had been working.
“We parked the jeep, just the two of us, and walked into the hospital with our bags,” recalls Frank.
The pair were taken to different rooms, with Frank put on dialysis immediately. The next morning Cahal underwent surgery, lasting three hours. The kidney was transplanted and Frank was out of theatre four hours later.
They saw each other briefly after the operation, giving each other a simple wave to acknowledge what had happened.
“Cahal’s kidney took straightaway,” says Frank, who remembers going for a scan and asking the nurse to show him his new kidney.
“I’ll never forget what she said - that ‘it was lit up like a Christmas tree’. I said, ‘What do you mean?’ and she said it was because it was working so well! I’ll always remember that.”
Five days later Cahal was back home, followed by his dad six days after that.
“I’ve never really looked back. I’ve recovered so well,” says Frank, who says he has taken a back seat with the work, and that Cahal has now taken over the sheep dealing business.
“I’m very lucky, I’m in a position where I can rest and let Cathal get on with the business. We’re able to do so much more. We were never able to take a holiday before and, if you were away somewhere, you were always rushing to get back for dialysis.”
As for Cahal, he was back working within weeks of the operation. He said it was such a small thing to do when he sees how the transplant has changed his dad’s life.
“He has more energy and he’s a far better colour,” says Cahal. “My father has a second chance at life and when you see it, when you see the results, you realise how important it is.”
Frank says he feels like a “free man”.
“It’s a new start, a second chance, as Cahal says. I feel like I have my life back,” says Frank, who can’t praise his children enough.
“I’m very proud of them. It was a big thing they were prepared to do, and it was a big operation for Cahal. I am very, very lucky, and very thankful,” he says.
The family want to say a “massive ‘thank you’” to the staff in the Renal Unit at Altnagelvin Hospital and at Omagh Hospital; the staff in the Transplant Unit in the City Hospital in Belfast; and staff at Dungiven Health Centre. They also want to pay tribute to their family, friends, neighbours and friends of Cahal for their incredible support over the last year and a half.
Frank says the support has been priceless, and added: “I’ve had no setbacks really and, definitely, we’ve had a great run!”