People across Northern Ireland have been urged to give the gift of life and become organ donors as Belfast gears up to host the 2011 Westfield Health British Transplant Games.
Health Minister Edwin Poots met with a range of athletes — who have all had organ transplants — at Belfast City Hall yesterday to offer them words of encouragement ahead of the Games.
And he called on people across the province to sign up to the NHS Organ Donor register.
“The people here are a testament to the success of transplants because they are only alive because they have had a transplant,” he said.
“I know people who had transplants 20 or 30 years ago and they are still doing very well physically, so I would encourage people to put their name on the Organ Donor register, so if they are unfortunate enough to lose their life, they will save five or six lives themselves.”
Last month, the Belfast Telegraph revealed Mr Poots is considering the possibility of introducing presumed consent in Northern Ireland.
This means everyone would be regarded as a potential organ donor on their death unless they request not to be.
Mr Poots added: “I would certainly like to look at this.”
He was joined by Eddie Rooney, chief executive of the Public Health Agency and chairman of the Games organising committee, and Belfast Lord Mayor Niall O Donnghaile.
Dr Rooney said: “Every single one of these competitors has received the gift of life, in the form of a transplant, and they are taking part to celebrate this gift.
“The Games were last held in Belfast in 1998 and everyone who took part remembers them with affection.
“I am sure that the welcome the city gives this time around will be even bigger and warmer and that all the competitors and their families will be talking about them for years to come.”
Mr O Donnghaile, who has been on the organ donor list for four years, said: “The whole point of the games is to celebrate the gift of life and promote the urgent need for donor awareness in our community.
“While we look forward to giving Belfast’s renowned warm welcome to the athletes, their families and supporters — and making these Games truly memorable for all concerned — it is equally important that we leave a lasting legacy by signing up to the donor register and giving the gift of life to those who so desperately need it.”
For more information on the 2011 Westfield Health British Transplant Games, visit the website: www.transplant|sport.org.uk
To sign up to the NHS Organ Donor register log onto www.organdonation.nhs.uk, telephone 0300 123 23 23 or text SAVE to 84118.
Cara owes life to boy (13)
Twenty-year-old Cara Hearst owes her life to the generosity of the family of a 13-year-old boy killed in a traffic accident.
The student from Newtownards was diagnosed with Wilson disease — a genetic disorder which causes a build-up of copper in the brain and liver — when she was 18.
Doctors believed she would die within days without receiving a new liver.
To acknowledge the amazing gift she received two years ago and to celebrate her own recovery from a life-threatening illness, Cara is taking part in the upcoming Westfield Health British Transplant Games.
“Basically I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for my donor,” she said.
‘A shadow of who he is now’
Mark Dobson (18) suffered irreparable kidney damage shortly after he was born and went onto the transplant waiting list as a teenager when his condition deteriorated.
His mum, Jo-Anne Dobson, explained: “We knew Mark was going to need a kidney transplant but it was still shocking to be told he was going on to the list. He was very unwell and it was very difficult to watch.
“He was breathless, couldn’t walk very far, he was very thin, and sick all the time. He was a shadow of the person he is now.”
In February 2009, a match was found and the family travelled from their home in Waringstown to the City Hospital in Belfast for the operation.
Mrs Dobson said: “He is doing a lot better now and can’t wait to take part in the Games.”
The Westfield Health British Transplant Games celebrate the health of those who have been through a transplant and the gift of life given by donors and their families. They take place in Belfast between August 4 and 7. On the evening of August 4, more than 600 athletes will parade through the city centre from the City Hall to the Belfast Waterfront for the opening ceremony. They will then go on to compete in more than 20 sports at locations around Belfast.