NINETEEN-year-old Jack Ellis’s parents were told that their son would need a kidney transplant when he was 14. But Jack, from Glanmire, had defied medical opinion and doesn’t need a new organ just yet - although his kidney function started dropping in 2018.
“Now that my kidneys are at end stage, the journey of finding a donor begins,” says Jack, a first year arts student at UCC.
“I’m excited to think that I will have a wonderful life when that happens. I’m also apprehensive and worried about the journey as I know there will be many twists on the road.”
Jack says that being a teenager means he doesn’t have a lot of patience with ill health.
“But I’m trying to stay as positive as I can be for the future.”
His kidneys have a 12% function. Once that drops to 7%, dialysis is needed.
He has inflammation of filters in the kidneys that filtrate the blood.
As a young child, he used to have a lot of coughs and severe headaches.
“My mother brought me to CUH and then I had to go to Temple Street in Dublin. They thought it was either leukaemia or a kidney problem.
“I was diagnosed with my kidney problem at eight. I had to stay in Temple Street hospital for a few months.
“I didn’t really understand what was going on. I couldn’t do sports for a while.”
He says that it “was weird being different in the sense that I had to watch my diet and couldn’t have chocolate or crisps that my friends were having.”
Jack has to have a diet that is low on protein. “I eat mainly carbohydrates. I wasn’t always the most compliant patient, but now, I’m taking my diet seriously. I can have ice-cream. But not bananas as they have potassium in them. I can’t have salt.”
Monthly visits to Temple Street and being more vulnerable to chest infections meant that Jack missed a lot of school.
“Sometimes I had to wear a blood pressure monitor at school. My blood pressure used to be high but I went on tablets for it. Now, I’m not on any medication for blood pressure and it is perfect.”
A past pupil of Christians, Jack said he “loved school”.
“The teachers understood what was going on with me and if I needed water, they’d let me out to get it. They were helpful, always checking up on me.
“I played sports; rugby in first year and hurling, football and soccer. The team would have protein shakes after a game but I wouldn’t be able to have them.”
Since he was 16, Jack has been under the care of Dr Liam Plant.
“He is one of the nicest men I’ve ever met,” says Jack. “He makes me laugh every time I go to see him.”
But Jack’s kidney issues have curtailed his life in some ways. He had to “play catch-up at school”. He gets exhausted very easily and his social life is restricted.
“My father owns a pub (Moks on Bandon Street). I was in there from an early age working. With drinking, it’s different for everyone. For me, going drinking once a week is fine as long as I drink a lot of water. In a way, the kidney problem promotes a healthy lifestyle. I have a pint of water after every two pints or one pint even and at the end of the night, I’d have three or four pints of water.”
If Jack goes out a second night in the week, he doesn’t drink alcohol, opting instead for a game of darts or pool.
He says his limited social life “can sometimes be upsetting”.
He has had a girlfriend for three years.
“She’s always looking out for me. My friends look out for me too. Everyone is very supportive.”
Jack, who is studying philosophy, sociology, archaeology and Irish folklore, admits that he didn’t really attend college for the first semester.
“When I was starting college, it was my first time being anxious about my kidneys. I was just working in Moks.
“But around December, I started going to college.”
Ultimately, Jack thinks he may study law.
Asked if he ever feels bitter about his health issue, he says that he’s accepting of it.
“I can’t do anything about it. I’m not an angry person.”
To prepare for a transplant, Jack is currently having scans carried out. His bloods are being tested, his heart is being examined and he will have a hepatitis C vaccination. His dental fitness also has to be assessed.
“My bloods are being sent to Beaumont to see if I’m ready for a transplant.”
Jack is heartened by a kidney patient, John Egan, who plays for Westmeath.
“Once he got his kidney transplant, he has noticed a crazy difference. His tiredness is gone.”
A transplant will be a whole new lease of life for Jack.
“That’s what people say. There’s no way of predicting how long I’ll be waiting. If my function drops to 11% and I stay stable at that, I’ll avoid dialysis.”
Members of Jack’s family, including his parents, have come forward as possible kidney donors.
Some close friends have also volunteered to be tested for suitability to donate a kidney.
“Not everyone will match. One in five matches up.” Jack wants to raise awareness about the importance of carrying a donor card.
“It saves people’s lives, giving them a second chance.”
On February 27, Jack will host an event with the Irish Kidney Association. A 5-a-side tournament will be held at St Finbarr’s GAA astro pitch from 1pm-5pm.
There will be a social at Moks after the football. Jack has also started a Go Fund Me page. Search for ‘Irish Kidney Association, Jack Ellis’. At the time of going to print the page had more than €6,000 raised. See here
ABOUT THE IRISH KIDNEY ASSOCIATION
The Irish Kidney Association is a charitable voluntary organisation founded in 1978. It is dedicated to meeting the needs of renal patients and their families and carers, living with and affected by end stage renal disease. These needs are spread across all aspects of life - medical, social and psychological.
They have branches all over Ireland, including in Cork. For more on the local branch see https://www.facebook.com/CorkIrishKidneyAssociation. For more information see www.ika.ie
HOW TO CARRY A DONOR CARD
The IKA now have a Digital Organ Donor Card App. You can use the app to start the ‘Organ Donation Conversation’ with your family, and make sure they know your wishes.
Or you can also get an Organ Donor card through the post by contacting the IKA.