‘It has had such a transformational effect on my life’ – woman thanks her sister for kidney transplant

By | April 5, 2021

A family have shared their story of organ transplants, as six of their family have received kidney transplants throughout the years. 

our years ago, Emma O’Connor gave her older sister Louise Cowman the gift of life when she donated her kidney to the mum of twins. Louise said her transplant “was like winning the lotto.”

Their father Joe Fitzpatrick has also become a kidney recipient – as well as an uncle, aunts, and two cousins.

The Irish family are sharing their kidney transplant story in support of Organ Donor Awareness week which ran from March 27– April 3.

The family carry a rare hereditary kidney condition called Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD), which over time causes loss of kidney function. The family say they are “grateful” for the opportunities kidney transplants have granted them. 

Dundalk hairdresser Emma O’Conner donated her kidney to her sister Louise in 2016 in Belfast, while only a week later, their cousin in Sweden underwent a kidney transplant from a deceased donor. The sister’s father Joe Fitzpatrick, who lives in Dublin received a kidney transplant in Beaumont Hospital nine years ago.

The family say their condition has gone back for generations and are fortunate for the medical advances today.

Ms Cowman, kidney recipient said, “My great-grandmother Bridie Reinhart buried eight of her children who we now suspect carried the same PKD condition as us.

“Previous generations were not so lucky, the condition was undiagnosed or unknown. Dialysis as a form of treatment only became available about half a century ago.”

Fortunately for younger sister Emma O’Conner, she was not born with the inherited kidney condition (PKD) and decided after watching her sister struggle through Christmas that she would donate her kidney.

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Ms O’Connor, who works for Peter Mark in Dundalk has two children herself, now 14 and 17 years-old and said, “It was a very easy decision to donate my kidney to Louise.

“She had young twins with their whole lives ahead of them and needed a strong well mammy.

“It was on St. Stephen’s Day in 2014 that I decided I wanted to be a kidney donor to Louise.

“I had seen Louise was very sick all through Christmas Day and she had just been told that she would need to commence dialysis as her kidney function was extremely low.”

Ms O’Connor said both sisters had remembered how much their father had benefited from his kidney transplant – “I knew that a transplant would make a huge difference to her quality of life”, she said.

After Christmas 2014, Ms O’Conner got tested for organ donation to realise they were a “perfect match”. 

Older sister and organ recipient Ms Cowman said, “I am so grateful to Emma for giving me the chance to live a full life again and my children feel grateful also as they can remember me when I was sick and had little energy.

“My twins Andrew and Aoife who turned twelve years old during Organ Donor Awareness Week were only five when I went on the transplant waiting list. Our whole family feel very lucky that so many of us have been given a second chance through organ donation and transplantation.”

Ms Cowman said receiving the kidney donation “just completely transformed everything. I went from being really sick with young children and now I feel so good it’s like I had never been sick. I returned to work and was able to begin coaching my daughter’s GAA team.

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“My transplant has had such a transformational effect on my life and it’s completely down to Emma who I am so grateful to.”

Organ Donor Awareness Week 2021, is organised by the Irish Kidney Association. They have noted a fall in the number of transplants in 2020. 

Speaking at the national launch of Organ Donor Awareness Week last week, Mr. Colin Mackenzie, National Honorary Chairman, Irish Kidney Association said, “Sadly Covid-19 had and continues to have a serious unwelcome impact on the transplant community.

He added, “A number of people in the dialysis and transplant community died with Covid-19, and we would like to express our deep sympathies to their families.”

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