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Organ donation: Edwin Poots' dithering is kick in teeth to those waiting for op, says woman who gave kidney to a stranger

BY REBECCA BLACK

A brave pensioner who gave a kidney to a stranger has said she feels let down by Edwin Poots after he delayed new legislation aimed at improving donor rates.

Retired nurse Catherine McCarley (64) said the move had left many on donor waiting lists feeling angered.

She met Mr Poots (right) a year ago at Belfast City Hospital as she embarked on the live donation process and said she was impressed by his apparent commitment to supporting donation.

But she was left frustrated on Tuesday when he said a proposed new law that would see people having a "soft" opt-out of donating their organs after their death needed further consultation. Yesterday Mrs McCarley revealed her frustration and disappointment at the move.

The Ballyclare woman said that people were dying and she cannot understand why the new law should be delayed.

She met Mr Poots along with First Minister Peter Robinson, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and donor campaigner Joe Brolly at the City Hospital as she underwent testing to become a donor.

They chatted about why she had decided to become a donor as they posed for pictures for the Press, and Mrs McCarley said all were very much in favour of donation at the time.

So Mr Poots' announcement earlier this week has left her disheartened.

"When I heard that, I was so so disappointed," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I just don't know what more they want to make the decision, putting things on hold, wanting this and wanting that, more research. People are dying and unnecessarily so, and I just wouldn't like that on my conscience.

"When I met him a year ago I was under the impression he was a supporter of organ donation.

"They wanted to know why I had made the decision to donate and thought it was great.

"They were in favour of organ donation, let's put it like that. I got that impression."

She described the delay to the proposed new law as "such a shame".

"People waiting for transplants are feeling really down in the dumps because it is doing them a disservice.

"I just don't know what more he wants. I don't understand what the problem with this new law is, it is a soft opt-out option, your relatives are going to be asked anyway when the time comes. I think they know if it's a no. Whereas people have great intentions about being an organ donor, but they never get around to telling their relatives or even going on the register."

Mrs McCarley said Mr Poots might have a different attitude if a member of his family needed an organ.

"If Mr Poots had a relative or he himself needed an organ, it would be a totally different story. Then he'd want to do something about it.

"Sometimes if people distance themselves from things, it is easier to forget about them, but once it affects you and your family it is a different story."

A spokeswoman for Mr Poots said the minister had a particular interest in organ donation and was "committed to do all he can to increase the number of organs available for transplantation".

She said a decision over the legislation will be considered later this year after the Public Health Agency has retested the level of support among the public for the introduction of a statutory opt-out measure.

"The minister believes that increased public awareness and education on key issues is the right direction of travel for organ donation in Northern Ireland at this time," he said.

'It is a wonderful feeling to know that you have actually saved someone's life'

Catherine McCarley says donating a kidney to a stranger has been the most rewarding thing she has ever done, aside from giving birth.

Four weeks ago the 64-year-old from Ballyclare donated one of her kidneys to save the life of someone she did not know.

She is one of 41 Northern Ireland people since last April who have donated one of their organs while still alive. But she is extremely modest about her incredible act of generosity, and pointed out: "You only need one kidney."

"You don't know all the things that we take for granted, like even just going to the loo," she said.

"They (patients in need of a kidney) don't have urine, the dialysis is filtering their blood for them. So the very fact they suddenly have this kidney working away, they can go to the toilet like you and me, even the fact that their bladder hasn't been used for years. The sensation of a full bladder means so much to them.

"You and I take all that for granted. The patients are so grateful to get their lives back."

Mrs McCarley said she was very well prepared by the transplant team and was confident that her health was as important to them as the recipient's.

"I found it the most rewarding thing I have ever done apart from having my children, it really was a wonderful feeling to know that you have actually saved someone's life," she said.

"You only need one kidney. The recipient can now continue to live a normal life"

None of her family or friends suffer from kidney disease. She first learned about it while conducting telephone interviews with kidney disease sufferers to help an academic to complete research.

"At that time I didn't realise – and I think a lot of people don't realise – that you don't have to be a relative or friend," she said.

"I discovered that when I was watching a television documentary on living with kidney disease. They highlighted that and said that if you were interested in donating you could contact your local transplant centre. So I did, and for me that was the City Hospital.

"At the time I carried an organ donor card but I thought 'this is something I can do now'. I don't have to wait until I'm dead.

"When I realised I could do it, I thought I have to do it.

"From a selfish point of view it was a good way to make sure at least one of my organs was of use to someone else because you don't know what you are going to die from and if it will be possible for them to use your organs."

Organs from live donors last much longer in the recipients' bodies than those taken from the deceased.

Mrs McCarley, a former midwife who then qualified as a health visitor before she retired, does not know who has received her kidney.

"It's all kept very confidential," she said.

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