Belfast Telegraph

Kidney gifted by GAA hero Brolly failed, but rare tissue match sees Shane get new transplant

Exclusive: A stroke of medical luck after blow of organ rejection

By Jim Gracey

Leading Belfast PR executive Shane Finnegan was last night making a steady recovery from a miraculous kidney transplant operation after doctors found a 100,000 to one donor match.

Mr Finnegan, who works for leading city public relations firm Aiken's, first made headlines of his own in 2012 when well-known GAA and legal figure Joe Brolly donated one of his kidneys to the 43-year-old after hearing he had been waiting six years for a transplant.

At the time the pair barely knew one another, only meeting by chance as coaches on the touchline of St Brigid's GAA club in south Belfast, where their children were playing.

The operation, carried out at Guys Hospital in London in October 2012, was ultimately unsuccessful and the kidney had to be removed nine days later due to medical complications.

In a statement at the time, the Belfast Trust said: "This is a rare and unfortunate occurrence after kidney transplantation. Most kidneys from a living donor work successfully for many years."

Having undergone two previous transplants, one of which lasted seven years, friends said Mr Finnegan, a married father-of-five, had given up on receiving another and was resigned to a life on dialysis.

One added: "Shane was told he had just a 100,000 to one chance of finding another transplant match. He had even stopped carrying around the bleeper he had been given by the hospital to alert him to a potential donor becoming available.

"Then, out of the blue, he received a phone call telling him to come to the hospital immediately."

It has since emerged that the new kidney came from a 54-year-old woman who passed away in England. Doctors there routinely ran a tissue match through their computer and Mr Finnegan's name immediately flashed up.

He is now recovering from his latest operation at Belfast City Hospital and early indications are that the procedure has been a success.

Prior to going back into hospital Mr Finnegan had been leading an active work and home life, which he now hopes to resume in the near future.

Along with RTE GAA pundit Brolly, he had been leading a campaign to lobby politicians, north and south, to consider a change in the law so that people would have to opt out of organ donation rather than sign up, as at present.

Together they also organised the Life Cycle Challenge bike event to raise awareness of the proposed changes to the donation system.

Mr Finnegan was originally diagnosed with renal failure while at university in 1999, and underwent two transplants, one of which lasted seven years.

But he had to wait six more years to find another match as a result of Brolly's remarkable gesture.

In an interview following that operation, Shane's wife Catherine (43), who works as a business studies lecturer, said: "Shane just came home one night and said one of the coaches had offered him his kidney, and it just seemed that it was meant to happen because of the timing - it was an answer to prayer.

"Shane had been bent over on the football pitch because he was feeling ill, and Joe turned to another coach and asked what was wrong. Very few of the coaches knew Shane was ill because we didn't really tell people. That one coach Joe asked did know and after that conversation Joe just walked into the changing room and offered Shane his kidney.

"I had no idea who Joe Brolly was and Shane just said: 'Google him and you will find out'. At the time I went and put myself forward for testing, too, as I couldn't have someone I didn't know donating a kidney. Shane's brother also got tested, but of the three Joe was the best match.

"I was completely overwhelmed by his compassion. To come up to someone you don't know at all and offer to save his life is just inspirational.

"Nothing prepared us for the kidney being rejected. We were more upset for Joe. Shane felt indebted to him. I remember when we got back to Belfast and saw Joe for the first time. It was a terrible day. Joe was really devastated and there was a sense of mourning.

"Together, he and Shane very quickly came up with the idea of the campaign - they were desperate to turn a negative into a positive.

"The relationship they now have is unbelievable. They are as close, if not closer, than brothers. The campaign has galvanised them, and they have questioned if the transplant had succeeded would they have done it.

"Shane doesn't want the focus on him. This is about other people's lives and benefiting other people, it isn't about Shane Finnegan. If one person dies they can save up to six or seven lives if they donate their organs. We just want people to be aware of that now and we want them to talk about it and make their views known to their family.

"So much is now coming out of it that we wouldn't describe what happened as negative in any shape or form."

Belfast Telegraph

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