‘My sister has given me my life back’: Cork mum who beat cancer twice while waiting for transplant praises sister's selfless act to donate a kidney 

As Organ Donor Awareness Week 2022 begins, Sarah Horgan speaks with a Cork mum who is encouraging people to become organ donors . 
‘My sister has given me my life back’: Cork mum who beat cancer twice while waiting for transplant praises sister's selfless act to donate a kidney 

Karen O'Sullivan and her sister Sandra Murphy. The sisters proved a huge support to each other in the run-up to their surgeries in 2018. Pic: Larry Cummins

A CORK mum who beat cancer twice while waiting for a transplant described how her sister’s selfless decision to donate a kidney brought them closer as a family.

Karen O’Sullivan was diagnosed with cancer on two separate occasions while trying to secure a place on the transplant list for an unrelated kidney condition.

After years of heartbreak, she was finally gifted a second chance by her younger sister Sandra Murphy.

Four years on, Karen opened up about the life-changing experience that cemented their bond as best friends as well as siblings.

It comes as transplant recipients across the country champion Organ Donor Awareness Week 2022- taking place from today to April 30. Organised by the Irish Kidney Association in association with the HSE’s Organ Donation Transplant Ireland, this year’s campaign features photographs of people from all walks of life enjoying a collective 410 years of extra life courtesy of organ donors. They include heart, lung, liver, kidney and pancreas recipients.

Between 550 and 600 people are currently on waiting lists for organ transplants in Ireland. Some 206 transplant operations were carried out in Ireland in 2021-16 more than in 2020.

Impact of illness 

Karen recalled how her uphill battle with serious illness began.

The Silversprings native, who now lives in Bantry, was told, before becoming pregnant with her first child, that only one of them would survive. Despite this shocking prognosis, Karen said the reality of her situation did not hit her for some time. Such was her determination to start a family, she decided to take the risk.

Luckily, both mother and baby Jamie-now 28- defied doctors’ odds and are living full and active lives.

Karen explained it was during her second pregnancy with now 26-year-old son Sean that her health took a dramatic turn.

She progressed to dialysis treatment in 2008.

“The second pregnancy was unplanned,” she said. “When the doctor told me before my first pregnancy that it was going to be 50/50 in terms of whether me or Jamie survived, I still wanted to take the chance. Looking back, I don’t think I realised just how serious things were.”

Sandra Murphy and her sister Karen O'Sullivan. 
Sandra Murphy and her sister Karen O'Sullivan. 

Never losing hope 

Despite being diagnosed with cancer twice during her 10 years on dialysis, Karen never lost hope.

“I had been 10 years on dialysis and was diagnosed with two different types of cancer during that time. This meant that I would have to wait five years before I even made it onto the transplant list. However, an amazing specialist, Dr Sinéad Kinsella fought for me and I was able to make it on after two. That was three years after my second cancer.”

Dr Kinsella, who sadly died from cancer herself shortly after, wasn’t the only one fighting Karen’s corner.

The mum-of-two explained: “My sister Sandra decided to go forward and get tested and she was nearly a 99pc match. It was very hard for her to do what she has done for me. In a way, she had nothing to show for doing what she did. I came out of the hospital stronger than I was before and with this newfound glow and energy, but she had been healthy so came out weaker.”

Karen said that words don’t go far enough to express the gratitude she feels toward her sister.

“Sandra has a great heart. I adore her for what she has done for me. Every time we meet I look at her and ask “do I really have your kidney inside me?” I don’t think she even realises what she has done for me. I can now get out of bed without having to disconnect myself from a machine. I can take a shower without having a tube coming out of my chest that I constantly have to clean and mind. Sandra hasn’t just given me a kidney. She has also given me my life back.”

The sisters proved a huge support to each other in the run-up to their surgeries in 2018.

“I was petrified for her and she was petrified for me. We are an emotional family who are always minding each other.”

Paying it forward 

Now, the pair is keen to pay it forward by encouraging as many people as possible to become organ donors.

“We would love to see as many out there as possible become organ donors because of the number of people it might help. There are so many in need of transplants, some of whom are small children. You can’t take your organs with you. This gives people the chance to have a small part of them live on.”

Those who wish to support organ donation can do so by carrying the organ donor card, permitting for the inclusion of Code 115 on their driver’s licence, or installing the ‘digital organ donor card’ App on their phone. Donor Cards can be requested by visiting the www.ika.ie/get-a-donor-card or to your phone. Readers can also contact the Irish Kidney Association by phone on 01 6205306 or Free text the word DONOR to 50050.

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