“I’ve never looked back,” says Fiona, who received the greatest gift of all from her best friend — organ donation and the chance to live a full, active and happy life.
Grainne O’Keefe, from Skibbereen, was there for her best friend Fiona when she needed a kidney transplant, which saved her life.
“After my kidney transplant on September 3, three years ago, I thought it would be a quick road to recovery,” says Fiona, a member of Transplant Team Ireland, who underwent a Living Donor Kidney Transplant. “But it took me almost a full year to get back to normal.”
Now Fiona, who is a performance nutritionist and a keen triathlon competitor, wants to give something back.
“Doing the ‘6k Your Way’ Echo mini-marathon with Robert, Alahna and Ryan, in support of the Kidney Association, is a fitting way to mark the third anniversary of my kidney transplant and to raise awareness for organ donation,” she said.
Fiona, with a zest for life, loves the great vibe that the mini marathon creates every year.
“Everyone is so enthusiastic and so up for it,” say Fiona, who has never taken part in the race, but has marshalled at the event.
Are the O’Donnell children made of strong mettle like their mother — who completed the Cork City Marathon not long before she was diagnosed with Primary Glumerulonephritis? And despite suffering a broken ankle during lockdown to boot, is still raring to go in this year’s mini marathon?
“The kids are all very sporty,” she says.
“Robert, aged 10, my youngest, is the runner. He loves running.”
6km is no problem to Robert.
“He’ll fly it,” says Fiona.
“It’ll be an easy trek for him.”
When Grainne, a mother of three and a sports enthusiast, stepped up to the plate to offer her friend the gift of life, the two women went on a journey unlike no other trek they’d been on before.
“We had great fun in hospital,” says Grainne.
“It was plain sailing and we had a very sociable recovery!”
“When I got tested, I thought it might be a remote possibility that I’d be a match for Fiona,” says Grainne.
“When Beaumont Hospital confirmed that I was a match; I thought, Jeez! What have I done?”
Grainne did the most magnificent thing anyone could ever do for a fellow human being, she gave Fiona a new lease of life.
“The kidney condition erupted out of the blue,” says Fiona.
“When I was 16 weeks pregnant a biopsy confirmed that my kidney function was gradually deteriorating. My ankles were swollen, I had suspected oedema.”
She never realised she could be looking at a kidney transplant in the future.
“I had a very healthy lifestyle. It was just one of those things.”
Fiona and her medical team worked together and managed her kidney condition well.
“Then I got a really bad dose of flu which set me back,” says Fiona.
“I had to go on a chemotherapy agent and hydro-steroids in a last ditch effort to boost the immune system so that the kidneys weren’t under attack. My thyroid took a dive too. And I was anaemic.”
The young mother, knocked for six, found herself in strange territory.
“It was a difficult place to be,” says Fiona. “I had no appetite and I got very thin. I work from home online and I stopped working. I was just flat. I had five blocks of energy a day. By the time the kids were gone to school and I had dinner ready, my energy was zapped.”
The troops rowed in.
“The children were really good to help,” says Fiona.
“They learned to use the espresso coffee machine and when I was lying on the couch, they’d often land in with a cup of coffee. The group of friends I train with, running, cycling and swimming, were fantastic. We are a tight group and we support each other. If I couldn’t swim, someone would suggest a walk on the beach or a coffee and cake. That was always welcome!”
When the inevitable time came for Fiona needing a kidney transplant after dialysis, she welcomed the volunteers who put their names forward to donate the life-saving organ.
Grainne was a match.
“I asked her, ‘why would you’? says Fiona.
“Her response was, ‘why wouldn’t you?’ It was a done deal.
“It was an amazing gesture,” adds Fiona. “You know you can repay a friend and do them a favour if the car breaks down or the kids need dropping to school. But I don’t see how you could repay this down the line.”
Fiona accepted her friend’s gift.
“It was a long process,” says Fiona, recalling going the distance back to health.
“We had to get tested over and over again and become familiar with the medical team.”
Going the distance together, they weren’t going to leave each other behind.
“I remember when I was assigned to my room at Beaumont Hospital there was an empty room opposite me,” says Fiona. “I asked could Grainne have that room?”
Fiona was ahead of the posse.
“I knew she would demand it when she arrived. Sure enough, when Grainne was shown down the corridor to her room, she immediately asked; isn’t that room free opposite Fiona?”
The kidney transplant operation was a total success. Both women bounced back quickly.
“The worst of it was, we spent so much time laughing, we were afraid we’d burst our stitches!” says Fiona.
“We had breakfast, lunch and dinner together in each other’s room.”
There were rooms available for other family members too.
“The Irish Kidney Association Renal Support Centre, 100 metres walk from the hospital, is a house where my husband, Brian, and the children could stay as well as Grainne’s family,” explains Fiona.
“It is a brilliant facility, relieving the stress of having to find accommodation and deal with Dublin traffic,” says Fiona.
The pals got back in the saddle.
“Grainne and I decided to begin training again,” says Fiona.
“I felt I could after 12 weeks.”
She walked before she could run.
“At the start, I walked at a snail’s pace, building up the distance every day doing 10 steps more,” says Fiona.
“Yes, it was a very slow process. I did yoga and physiotherapy to help aid my body in the recovery process.”
She was going for gold.
“When I could do 12 pelvic tilts, I thought I was ready for the Olympics!”
The duo even took part in in the Schull Triathlon together.
“It was a significant event for us, like no other,” says Grainne.
Fiona is well over the line now three years since her kidney transplant.
“Life is good,” she says. “I’m back training and back working. I’m looking forward to supporting the Irish Kidney Association, doing the The Echo Virtual Women’s Min-Marathon with the kids.”
The troops are keen to do the trek with their mother.
“We’ll head to Inchydoney and then to Castlefreke.”
There’s a carrot waiting at the end of the 6km.
“Destination Long Strand for fish and chips at the Fish Basket!”