ELIZABETH Ferry was a 14-year-old student in Errigal College when she was diagnosed with ESKD (End Stage Kidney Disease).
The shock diagnosis of kidney failure catapulted the young teenager’s life and that of her family into a world of uncertainty around her health. Six months of dialysis, six nights a week for 11 hours each time, followed before she received ‘the call’. That was nineteen years ago.
Today, Elizabeth lives with her husband Peter Conboy in Ballygar, on the Galway Roscommon border, where she runs a child-minding service from home.
Whilst many things have been put on pause during the Covid-19 pandemic, the need for organ donation and transplantation continues.
This week is Organ Donor Awareness Week 2021 with over 60 public sites around the country being lit up in green until Saturday.
Speaking to the Donegal News from her home, Elizabeth (33) highlighted the importance of having that discussion with loved ones about organ donation.
“I was a happy teenager who had, on reflection, been slowly going downhill for about a year. I had no energy and had been going backwards and forwards to doctors when my mum urged me to take a blood test.
“I was told it would be a week before I would get the results but I was in hospital the following day. Both my kidneys had gone when they got me to Temple Street and I was put on dialysis.
“Sometimes with kidney disease you get a few warnings but I didn’t. It was just one of those things. There’s no family history. I was the first to be affected and all my other siblings are grand. It was my first time in hospital,” she said.
The next six months were tough as Elizabeth tried to continue with normal life, living with her family in the Mountain Top area of Letterkenny and attending school, but that proved difficult.
Her mum, Annie Ferry works in Letterkenny University Hospital, and she has three brothers James, John, Patrick and one sister Louise. Her dad John Ferry still lives in Falcarragh.
In May 2002 she received “the call” that a match had been found.
“My mum and I made our way to Beaumont Hospital and I can’t describe in words how grateful I am to my wonderful donor,” she said.
That autumn Elizabeth was back in the classroom and she would go on to complete her Leaving Certificate before travelling to college in IT Sligo. She also worked in Mace’s Mac, High Road, Letterkenny, for four years.
After finishing college she worked in Sligo for a year before before spending four years in Australia and New Zealand.
“It was something I had always wanted to do but thought it would not happen when I became sick. With the help of my amazing renal team I was able to go and continue my check ups and care as I did.
“It’s important to know that you can still live your best life, travel, see the world and do what you dream of,” she said.
Last year, during lockdown, Elizabeth wrote a letter to her donor family on the 18th anniversary of her transplant.
“I am forever grateful to them for allowing me another chance at life,” she said.
“I’m still on medication twice a day and attend the renal clinic every three months. Other than that I’m healthy and doing well,” she added.
When Elizabeth and Peter married in 2019 the couple asked guests to make a donation to the Irish Kidney Association while every place setting had an organ donor card. They also lit a candle for the donor family.
“It was our own little way of highlighting our journey,” she said.
Despite the unprecedented challenges which the pandemic has presented, organ transplants have continued thanks to organ donors and their families and also the dedicated transplant teams in our transplanting hospitals, Beaumont, St. Vincent’s, The Mater and Temple Street.
At any one time in Ireland there are between 550 and 600 people on waiting lists for organ transplants including heart, lung, liver, kidney and pancreas. There was a fall in the number of transplants in 2020 across all the national transplant programmes. Whilst the 190 transplants carried out were 84 less than in 2019, the thoughtfulness of the 62 deceased donors (last year) in these very challenging times is inspiring.
During Organ Donor Awareness Week, the Irish Kidney Association will be actively posting messages about organ donation on social media channels encouraging the public to share these with their friends to get the country having the organ donation conversation.
Individuals who wish to support organ donation are encouraged to keep the reminders of their decision available by carrying the organ donor card, permitting Code 115 to be included on their driver’s licence and having the ‘digital organ donor card’ APP on their smartphone.
Organ Donor Cards can be obtained by phoning the Irish Kidney Association on 01 6205306 or Free text the word DONOR to 50050. Visit the website www.ika.ie/get-a-donor-card or download a free ‘digital organ donor card’ APP to your phone.
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