Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

I opt for Joe's plan

When we were young our mother was admitted to hospital to have her kidney removed. She was very seriously ill at the time. Quite how seriously ill was brought home to my sister who would have been about 13 back then.

She remembers queuing for school dinners, seeing a dinner lady nudge her fellow worker and then overhear her remark with compassion, if not sensitivity: "That's the wee twins I told you about. Their mother isn't going to do ... ."

In fact our mother did "do".

Even though she had a series of operations on her remaining kidney down the years, she lived to over 80 years of age.

Needless to say the subject of organ donation was regularly discussed in our house. Would we have given our ma a kidney? All of us said we were up for it. But having to actually consider it, does bring home the enormity of that decision.

You would give your mother or father a kidney, of course, if you could.

Your child? Absolutely.

I have a friend who donated a kidney to her husband in an inspiring act of selflessness. I'd like to think in the same circumstances I'd do the same but I am still in awe of her courage. She did it. I just talk about it.

Would you give a kidney to a friend? To an acquaintance? To a stranger even?

Joe Brolly, the GAA legend, donated his kidney to his friend Shane Finnegan in a transplant operation which, as we now know, was sadly not a success.

In an interview Brolly describes finding out the bad news as being like a "bereavement." He's put it behind him though and is now campaigning for an "opt-out" system for donors in Northern Ireland.

This differs from the current "opt-in" system where the onus is on the donor to signal they want their organs used in the event of their own death. Under a new system they'd have to signal if they didn't want them used.

Given that there are over 200 people in Northern Ireland (and 600 in the Republic) needing transplants the opt-out scheme makes sense.

Joe Brolly's selfless gift to his friend didn't quite work out. But what a perfect ending it would be to this story of courage and generosity (and that of others like him) if it was to change the current organ donation system to one that brings real hope to those in desperate need.

It's long overdue.

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