Join Cork mother for a celebration of life

After a kidney transplant eight years ago transformed her life, Sheena McDonagh tells CHRIS DUNNE why she is taking part in the annual ‘Run For A Life’ event
Join Cork mother for a celebration of life

RALLYING CALL: Mother of two Sheena McDonagh, from Rochestown, a kidney donor recipient, is encouraging people to take part in the annual ‘Run For A Life’ event, which is taking place virtually this year

SINCE Sheena McDonagh got a new lease of life after a kidney transplant in 2012, she has been grateful for every day.

That’s why the mother of two is taking part in the annual ‘Run For A Life’, a celebration of life and organ donation, which for the first time in 12 years is going virtual this year because of Covid-19.

Members of the public can come together while staying apart to support the Irish Kidney Association (IKA) and organ donation by walking, jogging, or running 2.5km, 5km, or 10km in their local area.

“It is a great way to support the IKA and get out and have a bit of fun, walking or running together,” says Sheena, of Rochestown, who is doing ‘Run For A Life’ with her 17-year-old daughter, Mei.

“Ray D’Arcy, who is an ambassador for organ awareness, ran the ‘Run For A Life’ event in Croke Park, Dublin, last May along with 500 other supporters, and is encouraging people of all levels of fitness from all over Ireland and beyond to join him this year in taking part,” says Sheena.

Also a powerful Cork ambassador for the IKA and for organ awareness, Sheena, who received a kidney from a deceased donor in 2012, suffered severe pre-eclampsia when she was expecting her son, Daíre, now 23.

“He was born prematurely at 27 weeks,” says Sheena. “At birth, Daíre weighed just two pounds and he was in the neo-natal unit for two months before we could bring him home.”

Fellow ‘Run For A Life’ participants John and Mary Hurley, from Mitchelstown.
Fellow ‘Run For A Life’ participants John and Mary Hurley, from Mitchelstown.

Pre-eclampsia is a pregnancy complication causing high blood pressure.

“My full kidney function never really came back after Daíre was born,” says Sheena. “I developed nephritis, a condition in which the nephrons, the functional unit of the kidneys, become inflamed. This can adversely affect kidney function.”

Sheena’s energy levels were badly affected and her diet was severely restricted, with a strict fluid allowance every day.

“My cooking was quite bland!” she says. “Eventually, in my late 30s, early 40s, I went rapidly downhill, only having 10% of my kidney function. I was monitored for over a decade and the condition was carefully managed,” says Sheena.

“I was a busy mum. My quality of life was seriously compromised.”

Her health unfortunately declined until the point that it was clear that she needed dialysis.

“I had two forms of treatment which I underwent at home,” says Sheena. “Peritoneal dialysis four times a day, and then I switched to nightly dialysis for up to eight or nine hours at a time. It was very time-consuming and it was very invasive.”

The drudge of being hooked up to a machine every night took its toll both physically and mentally.

“I felt tired all the time and I was quite low,” says Sheena. “The whole maintenance regime was stressful.”

Chronic kidney disease controlled her life.

“The illness dictated how I led my life,” says Sheena. “I always had to plan ahead and work around my dialysis schedule. The medical staff did their best and my family were very supportive.”

STEPPING UP: Leonard McCarthy, of Ballinlough, with Hannah and James, who completed the run for ‘Run For A Life’. 
STEPPING UP: Leonard McCarthy, of Ballinlough, with Hannah and James, who completed the run for ‘Run For A Life’. 

Sheena’s consultant, Professor Liam Plant, Consultant Renal Physician in Cork, made the call for replacement therapy for Sheena, who was now struggling with kidney failure for well over a decade.

“That meant a kidney transplant,” says Sheena. “Professor Plant deemed me to be a suitable patient. He made the call.”

The call that would not only change Sheena’s life for the better, but would offer her a second chance to lead a full, active life, came on Mother’s Day.

“It was the day after Paddy’s Day,” says Sheena. “I was informed there was a kidney available from a deceased donor. The transplant took place in Beaumont Hospital. I was transplanted at 6am in the morning.”

All went well.

“I was a week in recovery and then allowed home. Before the operation, I had been on a renal diet where liquid, salt and phosphate was restricted, and rich food was banned. You wouldn’t want to be a foodie,” says Sheena, laughing. “I was lucky that I wasn’t a foodie!”

She felt lucky to have another chance to lead her life without any barriers or restrictions.

“Post-transplant I was on a prescribed diet, watching salt intake in particular,” Sheena says. “These days I eat a normal diet. I can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee without thinking about the allowed fluid quota like before. I will be on life-long medications, anti-rejection drugs that ensure there is no risk of rejection.”

Sheena, now living in the

ROWING IN: Sarah, Leonard and Oisin Moran, from Killarney, who took part in ‘Run For A Life’
ROWING IN: Sarah, Leonard and Oisin Moran, from Killarney, who took part in ‘Run For A Life’

-19 climate, must be extra vigilant.

“Transplant patients tend to have lower immune systems. So I have to be very careful during the pandemic,” she says. “Self-care is very important for everyone. You must mind yourself.”

She has willing hands to help her out.

“My husband does the weekly food shop, which is great,” says Sheena.

“When four people could gather together social distancing, my friends came over for coffee and we sat in the garden. It was really lovely not to be cocooning after so long and not seeing anyone outside the family. My husband says I am a social butterfly!”

Sheena says her life has improved beyond measure since she had her kidney transplant.

“My life has been transformed all because of my kidney donor. I feel extreme gratitude having a second chance at life.”

Sheena has a greater sense of her own health.

“I have great energy now, and feel as normal as everyone else. I felt like a new person after my kidney transplant.

Life, no longer a waiting game for Sheena, now offers lots of possibilities.

“Planning holidays and trips without thinking so far ahead anymore and not relying on hours of dialysis day after day, week after week, has given me a whole new lease of life.

“The freedom of flying off abroad on holidays is just wonderful.”

Generally, 150 to 180 kidney transplants take place in Ireland every year.

For prospective organ donors, it is important to have the conversation about it with your family so that your wishes are known

“Having that conversation is the most important part,” says Sheena.

“It doesn’t have to be awkward or strained. Having a chat to find out if family members are willing to carry an organ donation card can be a casual, but meaningful conversation.

“Some families are uncertain about what they want,” says Sheena.

“It is an important conversation to have with each other because the family’s wishes are final.”

The McDonagh family, celebrating life, are turning out in force to support organ donation and the IKA.

“We’re all taking part in ‘Run For A Life”, says Sheena.

And doggie goes walk-about too.

“Poppy is joining us — she’s thrilled!”

National Projects Manager of the Irish Kidney Association, Colin White, explains: “Going Virtual with ‘Run For A Life’ opens up lots of scope geographically for the event to grow and for the public anywhere in Ireland and beyond to really come behind this celebration of life.

“We will be particularly inviting our friends from the transplant and dialysis community across Europe to join us ‘virtually’ as they should be coming to Dublin for the European Transplant & Dialysis Sports Championships in August, which we had to cancel because of the Coid-19 pandemic.

“Members of our successful Transplant Team Ireland, including two who are living in South Africa and Australia, will also be taking part.”

People can donate a €10 registration fee and can choose to be included on a leaderboard for their chosen distance via a link. They can also share photos of their endeavours on social media-using #runforalife. There will be prizes on offer for each distance, 2.5km, 5km, 10km. The event is running until June 21.

To register for the Irish Kidney Association’s ‘Run For A Life’, log on to

Organ donor cards can be obtained by phoning the Irish Kidney Association on 01-6205306 of free text the word ‘donor’ to 50050

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