Belfast Telegraph

BBC's Stephen Watson hails donor Joe Brolly 22 years after his own transplant

By Michelle Smyth

Sports presenter Stephen Watson has praised prominent GAA figure Joe Brolly for donating a kidney to save the life of a friend — describing it as an “unbelieveable gesture”.

The BBC Newsline anchor said Mr Brolly’s act of kindness for fellow GAA coach Shane Finnegan brought back memories of his own transplant.

“It is the most selfless and amazing thing to do to give part of yourself to save someone's life,” he said.

“It is an unbelievable gesture.”

Mr Brolly, a 42-year-old All-Ireland medal winner with Derry, is continuing to recover in hospital after donating a kidney to Belfast PR executive and fellow GAA enthusiast Mr Finnegan.

The pair, who know each other from coaching an under-10s team at St Brigid's GAA club in Belfast, are recovering in Guy's Hospital in London after surgery last week.

Mr Finnegan (40) has suffered from kidney problems for 20 years. Two previous transplants have failed — one of them after 12 years.

Mr Brolly was among a small 2% group who were a potential kidney match to the married father-of-three.

Mr Watson explained that his father donated a kidney to him 22 years ago after the BBC man fell ill during his first year at university.

“It is amazing enough for a father to save his son's life by donating a kidney, but for Joe Brolly to do this for a pal is really exceptional,” he said.

The broadcast journalist explained that he was reluctant at first to accept his father's offer.

“I was only 19 and it was a very tough decision to make because I did not want to put him under any risk.

“However, my dad explained if I waited for a kidney to come up on the transplant list instead of taking his, I would be depriving someone else of a life-saving chance,” he said.

He added the strong bond between himself and his father became “unbreakable” after the transplant.

“The time we spent recuperating together was very special. Ironically, when I went into hospital I was very sick and when I came out I was getting better, but my father went in a well man and came out the worse off.

“It was very tough on my mum and my sister who had to look after us both so I can understand what Joe and Shane's family are going through. I wish them both a speedy recovery.”

The 41-year-old, who now has one functioning and two non-functioning kidneys, said he strives to live every day to the fullest since his transplant.

“I see it as a second chance and probably burn the candle at both ends by doing too much — my dad is forever giving off to me. I have a real appreciation for life now and I don't think I would have that if I didn't have the transplant,” he said.

Meanwhile, a statement issued by Ulster GAA on behalf of the Brolly and Finnegan families on Monday said they had been overwhelmed by messages of goodwill since news of the operation broke. “Both of them are making good progress and are overwhelmed by the generous support, best wishes and goodwill they have received over recent days and would like to express their gratitude to all who have supported them and also to those who sent messages of goodwill,” the statement said.

Mr Brolly, who a well-known barrister and television pundit on RTE, said he was inspired to help after the death of his cousin.

Catherine Quinn died three years ago, soon after having a lung transplant, leaving her husband Danny and three children. “I thought if the Finnegans wouldn’t have to go through that pain… it was a no brainer,” Mr Brolly said.

“And if you lead a healthy lifestyle, you only need one kidney.”

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