A Dungiven woman who had a kidney transplant nine years ago has encouraged people to talk about organ donation with their family.
Bernie McLaughlin, who received a kidney donated by her daughter Deirdre, made the appeal as part of Organ Donation Week.
There are currently around 40 people in the North and approximately 6,000 people in the United Kingdom waiting on life-saving transplants. Unfortunately, 14 people die every year in Northern Ireland while waiting for an organ transplant.
Bernie McLaughlin said her kidney transplant was ‘totally life changing’.
The Dungiven woman had suffered from ill health for a number of years, including high blood pressure, vertigo and a low blood count.
However, she never realised she had an underlying kidney condition.
“I was eventually referred to the hospital because my blood pressure just couldn’t be controlled and I was diagnosed with Glomerulonephritis - a disease of both kidneys which would eventually cause kidney failure.
“I was shocked because I never had any pain, I always just had low energy levels.”
The condition is often caused by the immune system attacking healthy body tissue and may not cause any noticeable symptoms.
Glomerulonephritis is more likely to be diagnosed when blood or urine tests are carried out for another reason.
Bernie said the doctors ‘tried to save what kidneys I had left’ and she was placed on steroids, a treatment she continued for 20 years until the kidneys began to fail.
“I started dialysis and did that for around a year. The plan was that I would do home dialysis but when I saw the size of the needle you had to use I just knew I couldn’t have done it. “Instead I travelled to the Renal Unit in Altnagelvin Hospital three times a week for four hour long sessions of dialysis.”
Bernie is full of praise for the staff in the Renal Unit, calling them a ‘fantastic team’ who ‘spoil their patients rotten’.
However, she found the dialysis particularly tough.
“It was the worst year of my life. You have no life. There was many a time I came in the door and went straight to bed. I just had no energy and sometimes just didn’t feel right.”
Bernie’s daughters offered to donate a kidney to her and Deirdre was found to be an almost perfect match.
“I wasn’t very happy about her doing it, I was worried in case something happened to her kidneys going forward, I didn’t know if this was a hereditary thing, but apparently not.”
The transplant operation took place on November 14, 2011 and Bernie and Deirdre were in surgery for a number of hours.
“After the transplant I had no pain or aches but my daughter was in pain and I hated to see her in that position. It was a great feeling to get your life back, I didn’t see it at that stage because I was so worried about Deirdre, but it is life changing. All those complaints that I had before the transplant just disappeared.”
Bernie said she had heard stories about people taking on the traits of their donor, and for her it was a new found love of ironing!
“All my life I hated ironing with a passion and I only ever ironed if I really needed it. In our house, Deirdre did all the ironing when she was growing up and since I got her kidney I iron every Sunday morning!”
This summer Bernie travelled to Newcastle to take part in the transplant games and won four gold medals in the events.
She has urged people to talk about organ donation with their families before it is too late.
“Talk about organ donation with your family. If someone dies and they are eligible to donate organs it is not an easy time to decide. It is something that should be talked about before it’s too late. Let your loved ones know your wishes or sign up to the organ donation register.
“It is truly life changing. My life has improved so much because there were days when I had to fight with myself to get up and go. Now I have my energy back.”.
For more information on how to register to become a donor visit www.organdonation.nhs.uk or www.organdonationni.info