Interview

Sister's generosity means new life for Donegal woman after transplant

Yvonne McFadden is enjoying a new life after getting a new kidney thanks to her sister Donna

Declan Magee

Reporter:

Declan Magee

Sister's generosity means new life for Donegal woman after transplant

Yvonne McFadden (left) and her sister Donna.

Yvonne McFadden is approaching four months since the day that changed her life.
On April 27th she was given a kidney during an operation at a hospital in England.
The ten days she spent in the hospital and four weeks she spent in England recovering, has transformed her quality of life.
Yvonne had waited 15 years for the procedure since her body rejected a previous kidney she was given.
She eventually received her kidney in a scheme through a hospital in England in which her sister was a donor.
For those 15 years, Yvonne endured a regime that most people would find unimaginable.
For the last seven years she attended kidney dialysis three times a week for up to five hours at a time hours at a time at Letterkenny University Hospital. There were severe restrictions on her diet. She could not eat chocolate or dairy produce and was restricted to a bland diet. She could only consume 800 ml of fluids a day.
“After the transplant, it was funny because they wanted me to drink seven litres (a day). So it was very hard going from 800 ml to seven litres . There is no restriction on food at all now.”
The only inconvenience is a fast in the morning and the evening when she takes her anti-rejection drugs. It's a lifelong inconvenience that pales in comparison to what she had had to miss out on before.”
Yvonne got her new kidney thanks to her sister Donna who entered into a donor exchange scheme with Donna and Yvonne’s friend Tom.
Yvonne had hoped the transplant would come through last year after her friend Tom volunteered without her knowledge to put himself forward to take part in a transplant exchange.
The offer saw Tom and Yvonne appear on national radio after the Irish kidney Association shared a Donegal Democrat story on the pair’s hopes for a transplant. The story grabbed the attention of the Ryan Tubridy Show on RTÉ Radio One.
While ultimately a match could not be found that would allow Tom to make his generous donation, a match was found involving Donna, who lives in Manchester.
“We had got a match (with Tom) but when they did a cross-match - more tests basically - it wasn’t a match. So we went in again back into the pool with Tom and my sister Donna. It gave me more options having two donors. In January they rang and said they had a potential match.”
She had been on waiting lists for a transplant for 12 years and had been on the list in England for almost six years. Through all that time Yvonne had always retained confidence that her transplant would come through.
“I knew it was going to happen. It just took time because but they have a great system over there.”
Yvonne had a transplant before but her body rejected it. “This had to be a perfect, perfect match.”
The scheme involved three couples with three donors. Donna’s kidney went to one of the group and Yvonne received a kidney from a donor in the group.
She will not know the identity of the person but she is able to write a letter which will be passed on to the donor.
Yvonne’s life has now been transformed, she says.
“There is just no comparison. It’s not being tied to the hospital all, the time. I was going over to see my sister in Manchester and I could book for the Thursday and did not have to worry about dialysis on Friday morning. When I was on dialysis all I could really eat was chicken and white bread, nothing really healthy, whereas now I can eat fruit and vegetables and all the things I couldn’t eat.”
Previously vegetables had to be boiled twice before Yvonne could eat them as the potassium could affect her heart and blood pressure.
“All I really ever ate was porridge, a chicken wrap for lunch and a sandwich in the evening. It was really , really restrictive and I am just so fortunate now that I can eat what I want. It's healthy and I just love it. It's such a big difference.”
One of her biggest culinary joys has come from being able to enjoy the pleasure of the humble cheese toastie again.
“I had that on the second day and I had one every day in the hospital.”
Yvonne has had three months at home in Falcarragh since she returned from her transplant.
Her immune system is low and she has had to “keep a low profile”. But that will improve after six months and Yvonne is planning some travelling next year.
The dialysis was a huge part of her life. She has been up to the unit a number of times since she returned home from the transplant.
“I felt bad seeing the other patients still there. But I suppose it does give them hope as well. That there is the possibility that it is going to happen.”
She misses the people there.
“The nurses and patients. I spent a lot of time there, I was going for seven years. When I went up in the lift I was thinking ‘this is strange’. It was good seeing them but also sad to see other people still on the machines. I had a great rapport with the nurses and I do miss them as I have spent more time up there with them than I did at home.”
The experience of the transplant was also very tough on Yvonne’s mother, Eileen, with two daughters undergoing major surgery at the same time.
“It was very hard for her but she was there the whole four weeks we were over.”
Donna has made a good recovery and Yvonne says she cannot thank her enough. “What she has done for me is unbelievable, I’ll never be able to repay her. But I have a new life. It just means everything.”