The children taking part in the Westfield Health British Transplant Games have defied the odds and are enjoying life to the full.
Hundreds of youngsters from around the UK — who have all had transplants — turned up at Queen’s Physical Education Centre in Belfast yesterday for the second day of the Games.
And as they enjoyed themselves in a range of sporting activities, it was difficult to imagine many were only months, weeks or even hours from death when they had their transplants. Not only do the Games promote a healthy lifestyle for anyone who has been through a transplant, but they also raise awareness of the importance of organ donation.
There are currently 292 people in Northern Ireland waiting for a life-saving organ transplant — 249 waiting for a kidney, one for a pancreas, 11 for a kidney and pancreas, two for a heart, 10 for lungs and 19 for a new liver.
And while latest figures show over half-a-million people have now pledged they will help to save lives in the event of their own death, this represents less than a third of the population.
Junior Minister Jonathan Bell (right), who attended the opening ceremony of the Games on Thursday evening, called on everyone in Northern Ireland to sign up to the register.
“I have had the pleasure of meeting a six-year-old boy who has been given a new kidney and when you see how well he is doing it shows you how important it is to sign the donor register,” he said.
“This child had difficulty walking and now he is able to run around as well as any other child his age. It really is wonderful.
“I personally feel we have got to the stage where we should introduce an opt-out system because you can see the value organ donation gives to another person’s life.”
Now aged nine, Rachel McCrea was given a second chance at life on Christmas Eve in 2007.
Her dad Ciaran explained: “I was in Donegal when I got the call and it was the most emotional time I have ever had in my life.
“I started crying when they told me they might have a kidney for her. We had basically been waiting for almost eight years.
“If you imagine something you want more than anything in the world and then you are told there might be a chance you will get it.”
Little Rachel was born with renal failure and suffered complications because of her condition.
Mr McCrea explained: “She couldn’t retain protein so would wake up all swollen down one side of her body in the morning.
“She was very small, she never ate and was fed through a tube in her stomach. She didn’t walk until she was in primary school.
“Before she had her transplant, Rachel spent three quarters of her life in hospital. She couldn’t play or get involved in the rough and tumble, but she’s a completely different girl now.
“We know her donor was an 18-year-old male from London and I feel he’s a real hero.”
Babies born with megacystis microcolon intestinal hypoperistalsis syndrome (MMIHS) rarely survive more than a few months.
But Connie Taylor from Doagh received a liver, stomach, pancreas and bowel transplant — and recently celebrated her fourth birthday.
Mum Anna said: “Connie went on the list at the start of June and got her transplant in August, so we didn’t wait too long.
“They didn’t tell us at the time but she was right at the top of the list because she was so unwell.
“I have had contact with the mother of Connie’s donor and we have exchanged letters. It was such a brave thing for her to do as she was a very young woman and she had lost a young child.
“You are really depending on parents to be willing to give permission for their child’s organs to be used.
“So many lives can be saved. As well as the organs Connie got, a young mum got a kidney and a child got her heart.
“I can’t say enough how important it is to sign up to the Organ Donor Register because having been in the position where our child needed a transplant we know her life was completely dependent on the generosity of someone else.”
Caelan McEvoy is only alive today because of the miracle of organ transplantation.
He was struck down suddenly with a virus and doctors gave him just two days to live.
The 14-year-old schoolboy from Kilcoo explained: “I don’t really remember much because I was so ill at that stage and I was rapidly going downhill.
“I was scared when I was told I needed a liver transplant but I knew if it was going to make me better then that’s what I needed.
“I got my transplant on June 22 last year and I’ve been back playing football seven or eight months now.
“The Games are good because you get to meet a lot of people and you know you’re not the only one who has been through this.”
When Aoife Doyle, from Crumlin, was born doctors gave her just a week to live.
Now aged 11 she is taking part in the Westfield British Health Transplant Games and looking forward to starting secondary school in September.
Her mum Hilary said: “Aoife was born with half a kidney, but hasn’t looked back since she had her transplant.
“Before, she was fed through a tube and was getting dialysis for 10 hours a night. Now her kidney function is better than a normal person.
“We know her donor was a three-year-old girl from Manchester and that she was electrocuted.
“Without the kidney transplant, Aoife would have died.”
Aaron Browne (14) from south Belfast was born with renal failure.
“He was born nine weeks premature by emergency Caesarean section and he was very, very sick,” explained his father Stephen.
“His lungs collapsed and he ended up with cerebral palsy, all related to his kidneys.
“Aaron originally got dialysis at home but there were problems and he had to have it at hospital three days a week instead.”
He was seven when his mum donated her kidney, and Stephen said he is “completely different” now.
He added: “We’ve only realised how ill he was now we see him doing so well. It has given us all a quality of life.”
To sign up to the NHS Organ Donor Register, text SAVE to 84118, telephone 0300 1232 323 or go to www.organdonation.nhs.uk. There are 292 people here waiting for a transplant. On average adults wait 184 days for a heart and 519 days for a lung while children wait an average of 93 days for a heart.