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Friends pay tribute as 'inspirational driving force' at heart of transplant sporting squad dies at the age of 51

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 03/06/2015

Janet Coleman
Janet Coleman
Janet Coleman takes a selfie with rugby star Rory Best
Janet Coleman with fellow Transplant Games medal winnners John Murphy, Joe Raffo and Turlough O’Hagan
Janet as a finalist in Belfast Telegraph’s Sportswoman of the Year in 2007
Janet Coleman with her parents Tony and Leontia

Moving tributes have been made to a woman heralded as the "driving force" behind the Northern Ireland Transplant sporting team who has passed away.

Dedicated to sport, Janet Coleman (51), who has been praised as "wonderful, funny, friendly and kind", became one of our best-known transplant athletes.

Originally from Newry, Co Down, she underwent three kidney transplants but "never let anything hold her back" and went on to become the Great Britain and Northern Ireland Transplant Games swimming coach - inspiring many to win medals. She died peacefully on Saturday.

Hundreds of mourners attended her funeral in St Colmcille's Church in east Belfast on Monday, including members of the Transplant Sport NI who formed a guard of honour. Swimmer Kathryn Glover, who has won countless medals at Transplant Games, said: "To me she was just such an inspirational woman. I wouldn't be swimming and I wouldn't be where I am if it wasn't for her. She gave her life to promoting organ donation - she was one in a million. She was the first out and last home in supporting team-mates."

Described as a "fantastic advertisement" for organ donation and the difference that the gift of life brought, she had ran internationally for Northern Ireland as a teenager. By the age of 16 she contracted a simple virus from a sore throat that damaged both kidneys. She underwent her first transplant in 1983, which was unsuccessful, then a second in April 1984.

After the major operation she was able to return to sport through the British Transplant Games, enjoying new-found health. Selected to represent Great Britain & NI to compete in the World Transplant Games, she travelled around the world winning countless medals. But Janet, who was vice-chair of Transplant Sport NI, started to develop problems with kidney function in 2010 and underwent a third transplant in June 2012 after her sister Pamela was found to be a match and donated a kidney. A huge fan of Ulster Rugby, she also played a major role in the NITG team in 2014 which won over 50 medals at the UK Transplant Games.

A poignant tribute posted on Transplant Sport Northern Ireland's Facebook reads: "Small in stature, but larger than life if you had ever met her, she was someone who never failed to raise a laugh or brighten up whatever gathering she was part of.

"She was a fantastic advertisement for organ donation and the difference that the gift of life brought and never failed to miss a chance to promote it whether you were a person on the street or even an Ulster Rugby player."

Shane Finnegan, who underwent a kidney transplant after his friend and former GAA star Joe Brolly (left) donated an organ, said she would be sorley missed. "Janet never let anything hold her back," he said.

"Her commitment to sport and in particular running was matched by her unstinting ambition to help people that were waiting for transplants by raising funds for research and patient wellbeing, as well as campaigning to encourage more people to consider becoming a donor and of course, in the process, save lives."

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last year, Janet told of her passion for being involved in the Transplant Games.

"The reason we take part in the Transplant Games is to celebrate our second chance of life. Our team motto is 'give and let live'.

Ms Coleman is survived by her parents Tony and Leontia and sisters Pamela and Lorraine and wider family circle.

How you can help

More than 200 people in Northern Ireland are currently waiting for an organ transplant. Every year, around 15 people in Northern Ireland die waiting for an organ transplant.

A Just Giving page has been set up in memory of Janet Coleman to help raise funds for Transplant Sport Northern Ireland. To donate visit: https://mydonate.bt.com/events/inmemoryofjanetcoleman

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