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Record-breaking medics transform five lives with kidney ops at Belfast City Hospital

After the transplant team in Belfast City Hospital carried out a record five surgeries in 24 hours, Victoria O'Hara talks to those involved in an extraordinary day

Published 30/09/2015

Kidney transplant patients (back row) Audrius Orinas, Aidan Murtagh, John Finnigan and (front row) Fiona Anderson and John McGinley at Belfast City Hospital
Kidney transplant patients (back row) Audrius Orinas, Aidan Murtagh, John Finnigan and (front row) Fiona Anderson and John McGinley at Belfast City Hospital

The expert team on the 11th floor in Belfast City Hospital are used to preparing to carry out one kidney transplant operation a week.

But on September 13 the dedicated surgeons, nurses and medical teams performed a record five in one day - transforming the lives of those people and their families.

In an extraordinary 24 hours the organs became available for donation from across the UK on Saturday, September 12.

And in an even more amazing coincidence, the top five people on the UK waiting list were all from Northern Ireland.

Surgeon at the City Hospital James McDaid, who carried out three of the operations, said the phone kept ringing that Saturday morning leaving him "very surprised" at what was happening.

"There is a single waiting list for the UK held in Bristol and as a kidney comes up the most in need on the list gets them," he explained.

"In the UK there are about 2,000 a year and 40 deceased transplants in Belfast a year - so we get little less than one offer a week. It so happened we had the five top people most in need in the UK for that day. On average there is six a day carried out across the UK, so it was extraordinary that all five were allocated to Belfast on one day."

James was speaking after the 2,000th kidney transplant was carried out in Belfast yesterday afternoon, with the first having been done in 1964.

He explained that calls were made that Saturday to assemble the team of experts to carry out the transplants. "It was a really big team effort," James added.

And the life-changing phonecalls were made to the homes of the five recipients Audrius Orinas, from Dungannon; Aidan Murtagh, from Newry; John Finnigan, from Cushendall; Fiona Anderson, from Garvagh, and John McGinley, from Londonderry.

Each were dialysis-dependent and were approaching renal failure.

All made their way to the hospital to undergo tests and ensure they were a match for the kidneys

Meanwhile, the team of 14 doctors, six surgeons 20 nurses and three scientists started to prep two theatres for the mammoth surgical task.

The kidneys arrived at the hospital between 9pm and midnight.

Assisting Mr McDaid were Tim Brown and Mohie Omar.

At 1.30am on Sunday, September 13 the first operation began - each lasting three hours.

John McGinley (41) from Derry, who had waited six years ,was the first to undergo the transplant.

"I was diagnosed in 2008 and went on dialysis a year later three times a week," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I got the call at 2.15pm on Saturday.

"I just couldn't believe it. My wife Christine came with me to the hospital; I was a bit nervous as I had to undergo tests."

He added:"I didn't know I was one of five people getting a new kidney on the same day. I found out two days later and couldn't believe it."

Second in theatre was Fiona (54), then 42-year-old Aidan, and fourth in line was Audrius.

The final patient the team operated on was John Finnigan, whose surgery finished at 11pm that night.

They were all home within eight days of their surgery, off dialysis and are already feeling better following the transplants.

James added: "When we finished there was a mixture of relief and pride. What this does is show the wonderful gift of life organ donation gives and that it would not happen if it were not for the families who under tragic circumstances make that decision. If it were not for them we could not help save the lives of others."

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