Mum gave her son the greatest gift... a kidney

Cork mum Mary Ryan donated one of her kidneys to her eldest son Eamon when he was 25, allowing him to return to full health. CHRIS DUNNE talks to the pair about the importance of organ donation
Mum gave her son the greatest gift... a kidney

The Ryan family presenting the proceeds from their Lipsync fundraiser to the Irish Kidney Association Cork branch. Front row, from left, Mary Ryan, Aidan Ryan, Megan Ryan, Helena Ryan Eamon Ryan, Michael Ryan.

MOTHERS everywhere recognise that the unique bond between mother and child can never be severed.

So when her eldest son, Eamon, now aged 27, required a kidney transplant before becoming reliant on dialysis and to prevent serious kidney failure, Mary Ryan was the first person to step up to the plate.

In a selfless act of love, Mary, who is from Ballinscarthy, donated one of her kidneys to Eamon in November, 2017.

“I had been enquiring for years if I could be tested to see if I was a match,” says Mary. “I was told when the time was right I would be called upon to be tested.”

Kidney failure, which impacts growth, appetite, energy levels, and bladder control, is not just hard on the sufferer; it has an adverse effect on the family too.

“When I came in from work and saw Eamon asleep on the couch, I used to think; is this as good as it gets?”

Reflecting on when she was pregnant with Eamon, Mary said: “I got a huge shock when I had a scan in the Bon Secours Hospital at 17 weeks that showed Eamon had a blockage to a urethral tract valve to the kidney causing damage to his kidney.

“It was possible I could miscarry and lose the baby.”

Mary and her medical team had to act fast.

“I was rushed by plane to King’s Hospital in London to undergo emergency surgery,” she says.

The baby was delivered full-term but his kidneys were compromised. One was completely damaged and he had only 50% use of the other.

The family spent a lot of time up and down to Crumlin Hospital in Dublin and a lot of time having medical conversations with Consultant Renal Physician, Liam Plant.

“When Eamon suffered from recurring urinary-tract infections he’d have to be treated intravenously via drip in hospital. He was very sick and it was tough,” says Mary.

“We were very lucky to be under the care of a great team.”

Eamon’s mother was lucky that her son had a very positive good outlook.

“He always had a positive attitude,” says Mary.

“And he’s always loved the outdoors and he’s always loved farming.”

Eamon’s pursuits were limited because of his condition.

“He didn’t play a lot of sport in case of injury,” says Mary.

“He was on a strict renal diet from the age of 17 until he got the kidney transplant at 25, with restricted fluids and salt — definitely no Taytos! His medication regime was strict too.”

Mary Ryan and son Eamon.
Mary Ryan and son Eamon.

The family knew that a kidney transplant was on the cards at some stage in the future.

“As he got older, things got harder,” says Mary.

It was hard on Eamon, a young man with optimistic hopes for his future.

“My life was fairly normal, growing up,” he says.

“Being a kid was no hassle once I took my meds and stuck to the limited diet, 4 ounces of meat, and a pint of fluids. In secondary school, all right, I couldn’t go on school tours with the rest of the gang and I couldn’t play sport.”

But he was super-sub on the local GAA hurling team.

“We won the county Under 21 hurling final!”

Eamon loved working the land on the Ryan dairy farm.

“I farmed alongside dad and we worked away together. Farming is a healthy lifestyle, one that I loved, so I went to Clonakilty Agricultural College after secondary school. I never smoked and I drank very little,” says Eamon.

But his condition began to cause him additional problems as he got older. A year before the transplant, Eamon’s energy levels plummeted.

“I wasn’t too bad up until the last year, or even six months before the operation” says Eamon.

His condition was taking its toll on his body.

“Then I began sleeping a lot. I was just about managing to do an hour and a half’s work in the morning. I’d come in then and sleep. After dinner I’d sleep again before going out in the evening for milking. I was panned out from it. I couldn’t eat, I was so sick.”

Mary, with the natural instinct of a mother, watching her son deteriorate before her eyes, knew the time was right to step up to the plate for her first-born.

In August, 2017, the process began.

“Eamon was well burned out at that stage,” says Mary.

“His energy was getting lower and lower. He was also getting closer and closer to dialysis.”

Mary, in her 40s, in the prime of her life, was in good shape, fit and healthy.

Was she daunted about giving up one of her healthy kidneys, under- going a transplant operation with potential complications even though it would give Eamon a better quality of life?

“I wasn’t concerned, to be honest,” says Mary.

“It was a no-brainer. I had the necessary tests and screening done in Beaumont Hospital, we were both ready to go ahead with the transplant operation once I was deemed a match. We knew we’d be in good hands.”

The Ryans received confirmation in October that the operation was going ahead. Then it was full steam ahead.

“Our family and friends and our community continued to give us great support,” says Mary.

Beaumont Hopsital’s Kidney Centre remains the largest provider of renal replacement therapy in the country.

“Beaumont is a busy place,” says Mary.

“I was in a room of my own and I was wheeled down to theatre for surgery at 6am. Eamon’s surgery was scheduled in the afternoon.

“We were kept further apart so that I’d have to get moving, walking to Eamon’s room after the kidney transplant operation.”

How did she find Eamon after the transplant?

“He was sitting up in bed with nothing connected to him. He looked very well.”

Mother and son were in good spirits.

“We joked to see who would win the race to get out of hospital first,” says Mary.

“I won by two days!”

She was back to normal, fighting fit within the year.

Meanwhile, Eamon also felt instantly better.

He said: “My kidney function greatly increased. Mum’s kidney function decreased after she donated one of her kidneys to me but because she was so healthy she bounced back.”

Michael, Eamon’s dad, who underwent a triple bypass the following February after Eamon had his kidney transplant, bounced back to health too.

“Myself and the brothers manned the farm,” says Eamon.

“All the family rowed in when myself and dad were out sick. My girl- friend Jessica was wonderful. And I’d like to thank our neighbours, the community and the local Macra Na Feírme who were always there for me.”

The Ryans were in other good company as well.

“We were finalists for a Carbery Milk Quality Award that year, which was great.”

Eamon was soon back doing what he loved best.

“I was back in the yard quite quickly,” he says. “I paced myself and my energy levels gradually got better and better.”

Life got better and better for the young man.

“You’re totally transformed with renewed energy levels,” says Eamon.

“You’re like a new person really. I’ve more energy now than I ever realised I could have. Now I’m just on the anti-rejection medication and a small blood pressure tablet, way less than I was on before. They go hand-in-hand. There’s one blocker I’m on too, for calcium.”

Now he has a new lease of life, he’s not watching the grass grow under his feet.

“Jessica, and I were on holidays in Malta last year,” says Eamon.

“We had planned on travelling to Australia and New Zealand this October, but that trip will have to wait until next year because of the Covid-19 outbreak. But we’ll get there.”

Mary says she is happy everything worked out.

“It was great that we could solve the issue within the family with the help of the renal support team,” she says. “And that Eamon as a young man could avoid dialysis.

“Now he is happy, healthy, enjoying life. He has a healthy complexion. He has never looked back.

“I would encourage everyone to carry a organ donation card. It is loved ones who make the call to save other lives by organ donation.”

And her first-born son has the best gift that he could ever be given.

FUNDRAISERS

The family held two lip sync fundraisers in which the whole family, the neighbours and the wider community took part, raising €20,100 for the Cork branch of the Irish Kidney Association. See: www.ika.ie or call the Cork branch on : 086-2755754.

The Irish Kidney Association anticipates that its cohort of more than 5,000 transplanted and dialysis patients are in the higher risk of mortality from Covid-19 than the general public. They postponed Organ Donor Awareness Week earlier this year due to Covid. However, they are continuing to fundraise online.

Organ Donor Cards can be obtained by phoning the Irish Kidney Association on 01 6205306 or Free text the word DONOR to 50050. You can also visit www.ika.ie/get-a-donor- card or download a free ‘digital organ donor card’ APP.

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