I was considered a fit and healthy 31-year-old. So, when in mid-March 2006 I felt unwell, I assumed I had a tummy bug or possibly food poisoning. After a few days, however, my condition deteriorated and I became somewhat disorientated, lethargic and increasingly nauseous. My abdomen became so distended that I couldn’t see my feet! My back began to ache and I developed a dreadful right shoulder pain...
I was admitted to Mayo General Hospital where an ultrasound showed a possible hepatic vein thrombosis or a large blood clot in the vein draining blood from my liver. I was immediately transferred to the National Liver Unit, St. Vincent’s University Hospital where, following a number of investigations, I was diagnosed with Budd Chiari Syndrome (BCS). This disorder is described as one which causes an obstruction in the large blood vessel leaving one’s liver. The obstruction which prevents free flow of blood, may eventually lead to cirrhosis and liver failure.
My liver was in serious danger and I was to have a shunt inserted surgically to restore blood flow from my liver. Even in my confused state, I was shocked to realise that I was so ill! Unfortunately, there were serious complications following my shunt surgery and my condition deteriorated rapidly. I was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit with fulminant liver failure. My name was placed first on the Super Urgent Transplant List of Ireland and the UK I needed a liver transplant within hours or I would not survive. I can only imagine the agonising wait for my family as my life was ebbing away and then the relief when they heard that a suitable liver had become available.
Though it was a suitable match, my liver transplant surgery was unexpectedly complicated and unprecedented. Thrombosis was observed within my hepatic, mesenteric and splenic veins. As the surgery continued, my family was advised that my chance of survival was not good and that every hour was critical. They prayed, my Liver Team worked hard and I fought. Following a very difficult and agonising 2-month recovery which included acute organ rejection, pneumonia, renal failure and numerous infections I was deemed fit to leave St. Brigid’s Ward, St. Vincent’s University Hospital.
Now when I think of my donor and his next-of-kin, I am still astounded by the extreme courage and bravery involved in making such a life-changing and unimaginably difficult decision at such a painful and distressing time. I cannot bear to think of the alternative if the decision to donate his organs hadn’t been made. In a way, I feel like I’ve swapped lives with another person; his death allowed me to live. My sincere gratitude is just too enormous to express – it’s that simple.