The importance of organ donation was emphasised at Shannon Airport at the weekend as local Transplant Team Ireland representatives set off for Krakow, Poland for the eighth European Transplant & Dialysis Sports Championships.
Included in the 34-strong Irish team for the games, which run until Saturday next, are seven athletes from Limerick and Clare as well as the Team Doctor, a Limerick native.
Speaking as they departed Shannon Airport for the games, team member John Loftus said that he simply would not be competing in the Championships were it not for organ donation.
Loftus, who is from Clarina, Co. Limerick and well known in GAA circles as the county’s Commercial Manager, will be bidding for his fourth European title in-a-row in the 100m when he competes in the category, as well as the 200m, for 60-70 year olds.
“It’s as simple as this; I would not be getting on a plane in Shannon today to fly out for the European games were it not for organ donation,” said John.
“I received a kidney transplant in September 2000 after getting a rare virus called Good Pastures Syndrome in 1992. The upshot of this was that I had irreparable damage to my kidneys and it got progressively worse and by 1999 I was on dialysis and on a waiting list for a transplant.
“A year later, I was just home after doing a guard of honour at the funeral of a friend when I got the call to go to Dublin and the transplant was done the following morning.
“I am so fortunate because I was told when I got the virus that I would get seven to ten years out of my kidneys and I got seven. Thanks to organ donation, I am now going for my fourth European Transplant 100m title in a row.”
The popular Limerick man said that turning the corner back to health was something he will never forget and will be eternally grateful for the organ donation that gave him his life back.
“Getting your organ transplant and getting back on your feet is incredible. There was a moment when you realised that your health and energy are beginning to improve again,” he continued.
“I just decided to do something to mark it and the Transplant Games was it for me. I set a target of participating in the Championships and here I am just about to head out as proud member of the 34-strong Irish team to the Championships in Krakow.
“I just wanted to demonstrate the joy and success of organ transplantation and what organ donors can do to give people a new beginning.
“I will be 67 on my next birthday and people who know about my involvement in the games ask me am I mad and I am, I guess. I’m mad about life. I would not have this chance was it not for organ donation and I would appeal to anyone out there to sign-up as an organ donor. It really is an amazing legacy to give.”
Other locals taking part in the European Championships are kidney transplant recipients Richard Costello from Limerick city, Madeleine Donaghy from Knockalong, Eoghan O’Neill from Newmarket on Fergus and Marie O’Connor from Lahinch. Two local athletes who will be representing Ireland at the European Championships and who are currently undergoing dialysis treatment are Thomas Doherty from Bruff and Mary Sheehan from Parteen.
Wishing the Team Ireland members well in the games, Shannon Airport Operations Director Niall Maloney said, “We are delighted to have been able to wish the team members bon voyage from Shannon. Each and every one of them is testimony to the importance of organ donation and we support them not just at the games but in their ongoing campaign to increase the number of people holding organ donor cards.”
Another Limerick native is Team Medical Director Yvonne Ryan, from Ballyneety who has been on the Team panel since the Games were held in Dublin in 2010.
Speaking in advance of the Games, Team Manager Colin White said “I have great admiration for the motivation shown by all of our team members in preparation for our trip to Poland. Not only have they been training hard for their respective competitions, they also pay the majority of the costs involved. As well as personal goals, our athletes are very much driven by a passion to showcase the importance and success of organ donation and transplantation. We are delighted to welcome two former international sports stars on to our team including former Garryowen, Munster and Ireland rugby player Richard Costello who received a kidney transplant in 2012 as well as Mary Sheehan who in the ‘80s represented Ireland for several years in table tennis.”
The eighth European Transplant & Dialysis sports Championships will be held in Krakow, Poland from 16th to 23rd August and will involve over 500 participants from 24 countries throughout Europe. Every athlete at the Games will either have already received a kidney, liver, heart, lung, pancreas or bone marrow transplant or are on dialysis.
The Irish Kidney Association is responsible for the coordination and organisation of Transplant Team Ireland’s participation in the European Transplant & Dialysis Sports Championships. For more information on the Championships and the Irish athletes visit the team blog www.transplantteamireland.ie or visit the Games website www.edtsc2014krakow.pl
For an organ donor card Freetext the word DONOR to 50050 or visit website www.ika.ie It is also possible to download an organ donor card on smartphones by searching for ‘Donor ECard’ at the iphone store or android market place. Your wishes to be an organ donor can also be included on the new format driving licence which is represented by Code 115.