When dedicated athlete Orla Smyth suffered life-threatening kidney failure nearly 10 years ago she thought she would never get to fully achieve her sporting ambitions.
However, a decade on and the 31-year-old solicitor is not only preparing to compete in the Westfield Health British Transplant Games in Northern Ireland this summer, but she is also training for the Belfast Marathon in May to help raise funds for Transplant UK (TSUK) — the charity behind the games.
Orla was only 11 when doctors discovered she had a degenerative kidney condition and while she underwent a number of operations, she was able to live a normal and active life throughout school and much of university.
“I got by without full kidney function until I was about 21, when my condition deteriorated,” she explained.
“I was really rundown and tired. I had to stop playing football because I really only had enough energy to work. I managed to get by without dialysis although I was really lethargic all the time.”
Doctors told the Belfast woman she needed a new kidney to survive and eventually a donor was found and she went through the surgery in 2004. However, the transplant was unsuccessful.
“I became very unwell and started on dialysis. I had it every night for eight hours. During the week was quite difficult because by the time you got home from work and had your dinner you only really had time for dialysis. The weekends were a bit better because you could stay in bed a bit longer in the morning. I was actually on dialysis on my honeymoon which isn’t exactly how I expected to spend my honeymoon.”
Orla underwent a second operation in 2007.
“I’ve been doing really well since then. Six months after my transplant my husband Declan and I ran to Tesco, which is only about a mile from our house.”
Since the second operation, Orla has gone on to compete in Transplant UK Games in Bath and Coventry and has won no fewer than five gold medals — in the 200m, 400m, 800m, 1500m and 3km mini-marathon events.
She continued: “I would urge everyone to consider joining the NHS Organ Donor Register.
“It really is immeasurable the difference a transplant makes to people’s lives.
“Every time I go for a run I have a feeling of immense gratitude towards the donor and their family for giving me the chance of a new life.
“If it wasn’t for their courage and amazing generosity, I wouldn’t be in the position I am now. The gift of life is the most precious gift anyone can give.”
To find out more about the Deep RiverRock Belfast City Marathon and sign up for the full event, fun run, walk or relay, visit www.belfastcitymarathon.com.
In August, Transplant Sport UK will bring 1,800 people to Belfast for the Westfield Health British Transplant Games. The aim is to raise awareness of the difficulties that are faced by people |waiting for an organ donor. There are currently 300 |people in Northern Ireland waiting for a transplant.