Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

Cabbie hails double transplant

Stephen Smith, centre, with his wife Rachel and RTE presenter Jow Duffy, ambassador of Organ Donor Awareness Week, before his transplant operation
Stephen Smith, centre, with his wife Rachel and RTE presenter Jow Duffy, ambassador of Organ Donor Awareness Week, before his transplant operation

A taxi driver is finally on the road to recovery with a double lung transplant - after eight false calls for the surgery.

Stephen Smith revealed his life has been transformed after spending more than five years dependent on oxygen 24 hours a day.

The 35-year-old said he is able to enjoy the simple pleasures in life, like walking with his wife Rachel, since he received two new lungs in Dublin's Mater Hospital in November.

"It's better than winning any lottery," said Mr Smith, 35, from Cavan.

"It's brilliant.

"Recovery provided me with challenges every day but I overcame them all one at a time and was allowed to go home after 15 days in hospital.

"Trying to describe how my life has changed, even at this early stage, is proving to be difficult."

Mr Smith first started to feel sick and breathless when playing Gaelic when he was 25 and thought it was asthma.

He was eventually diagnosed Alpha-1 Antitrysin Deficiency (Alpha-1), a genetic condition that can affect the lungs and the liver.

One in 25 Irish people are carriers for Alpha-1, making it the second most common genetic lung disease after cystic fibrosis.

"Before I was diagnosed I worked five days a week driving patients to and from dialysis in Cavan, I played Gaelic and soccer and trained three or four days a week," he said.

"In the last five to six years I've had to give up work, give up playing all sport which I loved, and give up going out socially for fear of infection.

"This condition did not just affect me, but it affected my whole family."

A record 293 organs were transplanted last year, including 32 lung transplants - more than the 31 carried out between 2009 and 2012.

There were also 55 liver transplants, 11 heart, 10 pancreas, 147 kidney and 38 living kidney donors.

Elsewhere the generosity of the 86 deceased donors and their families dramatically altered and saved the lives of 245 people, 10 of whom received two organs.

Organ donor cards can be requested through www.ika.ie, freetext DONOR to 50050, or call 1890 543639.

Mr Smith was called for a transplant eight times since 2010, but each time the organs were not usable and he was sent home.

"Each time we hoped that the next one was the call which would hopefully give me back some quality of life," he added.

"Thankfully my call finally came in November. I received two new lungs and recovered really well.

"Hundreds of others are awaiting transplants in Ireland, and although nobody likes to think of a loved one becoming a donor, it is without a doubt the greatest gift you could give another person."

Mr Smith said his own aunt donated her organs in 2011, saving three other lives.

"It was always her wish, in the event of such a tragedy, that her organs be donated and her family were happy to carry out her wish after she passed," he added.

"Without brave people like her, people like me and others will not get the life-saving gifts we so desperately need."

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