‘Hero’ brother gives sister the ‘best gift ever’

Lisa McCafferty and her brother, Shaun Hegarty.
Lisa McCafferty and her brother, Shaun Hegarty.

A Buncrana woman has told of the “best gift” she has ever received from her “hero” brother, who donated a kidney to her last year.

Lisa McCafferty, nee Hegarty, who now lives in Termon with her husband John and three children, spoke to the ‘Journal’ ahead of Organ Donation Awareness Week which begins tomorrow, Saturday.

The 36-year-old’s brother and Godfather, Shaun, donated a kidney to her last year through the Live Donor Programme after she became ill while pregnant with her third child, Seán Óg, who is now two.

Lisa told how it was found she had a previously undiagnosed kidney problem called IgA Nephropathy and also developed pre-eclampsia.

While doctors hoped her kidney function would increase and constantly monitored her though her pregnancy, Lisa’s kidneys began to fail and Seán Óg, was born 10 weeks early, weighing just 2lbs 11oz.

Lisa, whose two daughters are now six and four years old, was critically ill on the night he was born. When her health thankfully stabilised, she was told she needed to receive dialysis three times a week in Letterkenny.

Lisa was later informed she needed a kidney transplant and four family members, as well as her husband, underwent tests to determine if they were matches to donate.

Incredibly, all five men were matches and Shaun was an 100% match with the live donation taking place in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin on May 5th, 2015.

Lisa, the youngest of 10 children, said the donation has changed her life, calling Shaun her family’s “hero.”

Humble Shaun said he “didn’t even have to think twice” about donating and “it was absolutely no problem” to do so.

Lisa also paid tribute to the staff of Letterkenny University and Beaumont Hospitals, the communities in Buncrana and Termon for their “incredible” support, as well as the Irish Kidney Association.

She described how, before the transplant, she had felt “completely exhausted” and travelled to Letterkenny three days a week for dialysis.

As she had just had a baby, Lisa couldn’t undergo a biopsy until a while afterwards to determine if a transplant was needed. However, she said that a meeting with a lady at Beaumont Hospital, who she believes was sent to her by her late father Eamonn, prepared her for that fact long before it was confirmed.

She said: “I went to Beaumont for the biopsy and it was just me and a nurse in the ward. I was asking her about transplants and she told me there was a lady, called Aileen, who could speak to me about that. Meanwhile, Aileen was actually looking for me as my husband’s cousin was going out with her son. When I saw her walk into the ward I knew it was Daddy telling me that I was going to need to a transplant. It was his way of preparing me. So, when it was confirmed, while it was tough news to get, I expected it.”

Lisa’s four brothers and John then said they wanted to get tested to see if they could donate. Unbeknown to Lisa, they had decided that whoever was the best match would donate.

“I can’t describe the feeling of knowing that someone would do that for you,” said Lisa.

It was then a matter of waiting and Lisa found out the good news in an “insane moment” while she was out doing her Christmas shopping.

She said: “Shaun rang and told me he was a match. I just couldn’t believe it. I had this basket of stuff in my hands and I couldn’t leave it down. So I was standing at the counter going: ‘I just can’t believe it.’

As Lisa rang each of the other family members and John to tell them, they all confirmed that they also all matched.

While John initially wanted to donate, family matches tend to be more beneficial and Shaun, who is also from Buncrana but lives in Kildare with his partner Phill and family, matched 100%.

He attended Beaumont for further tests and Lisa said he did “trojan work” in ensuring he was ready for surgery, even losing weight by that March.

She quipped that the donation made up for any presents that Shaun may have missed in his role of Godfather over the years.

“He missed a few of the birthdays over the years but I think he more than made up for it! This was the best present he could ever have given me.”

Lisa and her brother asked for the soonest date possible for the live donation to take place and were given May 5th. The night before, Lisa, John, her sister Catherine and mother Margaret travelled to Dublin where they met Shaun.

Shaun was taken to surgery first, followed by Lisa two hours later. Lisa said it was an “emotional” time, particularly for her mother, whose two children were going into surgery.

Lisa was “excited” before the transplant as she knew it would change her life.

She said: “From the very start, I tried to stay positive. I just kept thinking: ‘I have to get better. From the first time I started dialysis I treated it as if I was going to work. You have to get up and go to work and I had to get up and go to dialysis, The girls knew all about it and knew that their uncle Shaun was going to help Mammy to get better. We talked to them about it as if it was a normal thing and they dealt with it really well.”

The surgery was successful and both of them indulged in a bit of healthy sibling rivalry when they returned to the ward.

Lisa laughed as she recalled: “We were having fun with each other and seeing who could get up and walk first. I was so worried about Shaun and he was at the front of my mind. But then they took off my bandages and I saw I had 45 staples in so I told him it was all about me then! But he honestly never complained. He was so humble and so good.”

Shaun told the ‘Journal’ he was “delighted” when it was confirmed he was a match. He said he has suffered absolutely no ill-effects from donating a kidney and was on holiday two weeks after the operation.

The 54-year-old said a decision to donate is up to each individual and told anyone who is considering doing so to “do what is right for you.” But, he added that strong support is extremely positive both before and after the surgery.

Shaun also disclosed that the after care in Beaumont Hospital in “second to none” and that he is feeling in the best of health.

“I was out of hospital in three days and I was delighted to do it. I told Lisa afterwards that it was her kidney now and what she wished to do with it was up to her. And she’s doing great.”

Lisa said the donation has made a huge difference not just to her life but also to that of her family.

She said: “The fact I didn’t have to do dialysis three times a week was such a relief and I’m not exhausted now. I’m able to do stuff now with the children - things like helping them with their homework, going shopping, a wee trip away - all the things we take for granted. Before, everything revolved around dialysis.

“Shaun is honestly our hero. He has completely changed our lives and I couldn’t thank him enough, He came to my rescue when I needed him most.”

Lisa paid tribute to the many people who helped her and her family while she was on dialysis.

She described the staff of Letterkenny University Hospital as “fantastic,” telling how they moved her from Coronary Care to Maternity in the early days when her girls visited her so that they wouldn’t be frightened. She said the staff of every ward she was in were “so helpful and kind” as were the staff in Beaumont.

Lisa also gave huge credit to the Irish Kidney Association who offered much support, including a taxi to and from her dialysis appointments with the “lovely taxi driver Michael Crampsie” and their help in providing accommodation, free of charge, in their ‘home from home’ next to Beaumont.

Lisa said she was indebted to her family and friends, including her mother and John’s mother Shiela, as well as Breedge McDaid, who helped look after the children.

She also hailed the communities of Buncrana and Termon, some of whom even offered to be tested to see if they matched for donation. She added how many had prayed for her.

Lisa added how she was also “lucky” as she remained positive.

She said: “I’m a very positive person and I knew there was nothing I could do about it. It was hard but out of all the things that can happen, it’s not the worst. I got my wee boy and I would do it all again so that I could have him. Thank God, he’s great now and is absolutely flying.”

Organ Donor Awareness Week takes place from April 2nd to April 9th. A number of fundraising events and initiatives are taking place and the public’s support is much appreciated. You can find out more about organ donation and the Irish Kidney Association on www.ika.ie