Irish Heart and Lung Transplant Association

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Personal stories

Karen Has the Heart to Keep Going!

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LIFE is for living, and that’s certainly a motto Clonakilty woman Karen McDermott believes, ever since she underwent a heart transplant in 2012. 

Four years on, she has found herself representing her country at this summer’s European Heart & Lung Transplant Championships, which took place in Vantaa, Finland. 

Not only did Karen participate, but also the badminton loving 42-year-old mother-of-two picked up a silver medal in singles badminton, as well as a bronze medal in doubles badminton. 

Not bad for someone who only decided in February that she would take part in the games.

It’s actually four years this month since Karen – who has two children, Shane and Nicola – successfully underwent a heart transplant and she hasn’t looked back since.

‘Before the transplant I was always active in sports, especially playing badminton. When I was diagnosed with heart failure back in January 2012, I actually played two matches that week as badminton was my life,’ Karen told The Southern Star.

‘Of course it was a shock and hard to take it in at the start. When I was told I had heart failure, I was put on the waiting list in June and luckily I only had to wait two months until I got a match. I was blessed really, as there’s a lot of people who are waiting for years for a donor.’

While rehabilitation following the transplant took its toll on Karen for a while, she wasn’t long getting better and was determined to get fitter, too.

‘I remember seeing Team Ireland going to the Games in the Netherlands at the time and I said I would love to take part and it inspired me,’ she recalled.

One motivation for her decision to take part in the games was finding out last year who her donor was.

‘I wrote a letter to the man’s mother to express my gratitude and she made contact with me through the hospital, and we’ve been in contact ever since. That gave me fierce determination to do it for him, and she said he would be so proud of me too,’ said Karen.

‘I told her I had won the medals, and as hard as it must be for her, I think I did bring her some bit of comfort because she feels that I’m going to make the most of my life and I intend to.’

Another event that sealed the deal for Karen was attending the annual Donor Mass in the Mater Hospital back in February.

‘Going to the mass this year was different for me as I knew now who I was praying for this time. Some of the people there were actually talking about the games and I decided then I wanted to take part this year, so they were delighted, as I’m actually considered young to be taking part,’ joked Karen.

Once the seed was sown, it was a matter of training and getting fit, as Karen only had a few months before the games.

‘Clonakilty Leisure Centre gave me a free membership until the run-up to the games and I was able to use the gym to train. I also signed for a ‘Couch to 5K’ run so all this helped and it gives your fierce motivation. Being honest, as it was my first transplant games, I was very naïve as I didn’t think it would be so competitive.’

Karen also had to fundraise to cover the cost of bringing her and her 14-year-old daughter Nicola to the games in Finland and they ended up raising over €3,000 through a variety of coffee mornings, pop-up shops and even a Go Fund Me page.

‘I can tell you there’s no place like Clonakilty for generosity. We were dumbfounded by the donations from people from here, and even from London, where my partner Sean lives.’

As well as winning two medals at the European Heart & Lung Championships, the whole experience is one Karen will treasure for years.

‘It was fantastic to represent Ireland and I’m so sad it’s all over, as I was with an amazing bunch of people. They’ve all been to that dark black place, but now everyone is so appreciative and it’s all positive.’

Karen’s opponent in the badminton singles final was from Norway and she admits her opponent deserved the gold but Karen will come back fighting for the gold in two years’ time.

‘For anyone who doesn’t know badminton, it’s a fast sport and it’s hard work and hopefully I’ll be more prepared and fitter for the games in two years.’

‘When I was going through my transplant I didn’t think anyone actually survives a heart transplant. So if someone is in the same situation as I was, then hopefully they can see what is achievable. It would be great, to,o to get people talking about becoming a donor because if it wasn’t for my donor, I wouldn’t be here now.’


Article courtesy of West Cork People:


Frank Galvin - Heart Recipient

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Frank Galvin is a 56-year-old recipient of a heart transplant. Married with 5 children, Frank was first diagnosed with a crippling virus in 2010 which was attacking his heart.

Following the insertion of an ICD, Frank’s health improved greatly until October 2014, when it was discovered that he was suffering from heart failure, the only solution to which was a transplant. An inpatient of Blanchardstown Hospital for 10 months, Frank received a heart through the generosity of a donor family in late July 2015.

The procedure itself went exceedingly well, although Frank did suffer a few problems shortly thereafter. While the medicines took some getting used to and, indeed, have their own unique problems and side-effects, Frank now believes he has turned a corner.

As he told us himself, the anniversary of his transplant will be a happy occasion for himself and family, but tinged with sadness for his donor’s family. 

Damien Keogh's Story

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Damien Keogh, a 33-year-old husband and father of two, is a heart transplant recipient as of July 2015.

Like so many others, Damien’s decline into extremely serious illness was quite fast. Following the contraction of a virus in November 2014, his heart became irrevocably damaged. Early 2015 saw no improvement with a Left Ventricular Assist Device being seen as the only means by which to aid his damaged heart at that point. However, during the procedure, his heart stopped beating for a total of 12 minutes, during which time he also suffered a stroke. So serious was this development that Damien set a hospital record for blood units received in a 24 hour period.

Following this, Damien had the LVAD in place until his transplant in July 2015. During this period, he was called to be assessed for three different hearts. One of said calls even saw him being brought to theatre only to discover upon waking up the following day that the surgery had not taken place. The third call, however, proved to be the one for him.

Damien’s recovery was a swift one. He spent a few weeks in hospital and was even able to attend a friend’s wedding in August. 


Last Updated on Thursday, 12 May 2016 16:24

Karen McDermott - A New Life!

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Karen McDermott writes:

" My name is Karen McDermott mother of 2 from Clonakilty in West Cork.

In October 2011 I attended my local gp because I was feeling unwell. I felt bloated and unable to eat. After initial diagnosis Of acid reflux it progressed that I needed a chest X-ray. In January 2012 The X-ray noted that my heart was enlarged too much for a 37 year old female. After spending months in Cork hospital it was diagnosed that I had end stage heart failure due to cardiomyopathy and mitral valve disease.

This was a blow to me and my family but we remained positive especially when I was transferred to Dublin and put on the heart transplant list in June 2012. My heart was pumping only 16% and I had icd and pacemaker fitted to get me to Transplant.

Being on the waiting list was something that I would never wish upon anyone but unfortunately there are still many waiting on organs. It is a difficult time as it is your every thought and especially as you become weaker everyday that passes.

I was finding it so difficult to do everyday tasks. Even having a long conversation was hard and I'm a chatter box! Standing brushing my teeth was too much and on one occasion there was an emergency ambulance drive to cork hospital because I had lifted a 3 litre milk drum from one side of my sisters kitchen to the other side. Maybe 8 steps. I used a wheelchair to get me about because walking any distance always set off my icd or pacemaker.

In August, I got a call that a heart was available for me. After a long trip to Dublin from Clonakilty with the whole town behind me we prayed for a good result that night but unfortunately it did not go ahead.

I felt so sorry for the donor family but worse for mine as they were so excited and scared and we headed back down the road that night.

I was blessed to get a second call a week later. And again with family and friends and the amazing hands and care of the mater hospital staff I am here today.

It was a rocky recovery at the start but I always remained positive and had a good outlook. I have great faith and I believe that I was protected through all of it and it all happened me for good reasons.

Since my transplant I have had a new life. The first year was rocky. I developed pneumonia and had skin infection called cellulitis. Yes the medications do have their negative affects but overall I am doing very well.

I am in a new relationship which would never have happened only for my donor. My kids get to see me being active, being at work, helping with many volunteering groups and just being plain annoying mammy.

I try to be as active as possible and this year to honour my donor I am participating in the European Heart and Lung Transplant Games in Finland.

When I was well I used to play badminton now I want to show the world that organ donation works because I'll be back on that court more eager than ever and definitely more proud. I've gone from wheelchair to playing a match. How good is that! "

Thanks Karen for sharing your story. 

Kevin Hickey's Story

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Below is an extract from an article written by Kevin Hickey, one of our Committee members, in March 2015:

Born with a crippling defect in my heart muscle, I was gravely ill as a baby and under the care of Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin. Following a relative stabilisation of my condition, I went on to live what I believed was a relatively normal, healthy existence. However, in January of 2014 my health nosedived. I presented myself to hospital in late January of that year and didn’t emerge from inpatient care until mid-April, by which time I had received a heart transplant at the Mater Hospital in Dublin.   

My end-stage deterioration was swift and brutal, culminating in exhaustion and my heart being unable to function to any satisfactory degree without the assistance of invasive devices. So grave was my position that, by late February, I was placed on the waiting list for a transplant. My decline continued rather swiftly from that point forth, incorporating blood clots amongst other hugely painful events. 

My survival chances were grim with medical thinking being that, without a transplant, my life expectancy was abysmal – less than 50% chance of lasting a year and less than 5% likelihood of making it to 27 years of age.   

In late March, just as my condition was at an extremely low point, I received word from the wonderful Transplant Team in the Mater Hospital that a heart might be available. Following an excruciating wait one Saturday evening, including a battery of tests, it was agreed that the heart was a match. The operation could go ahead.  

In the absence of organ donation, I would most likely not be here today. Not only would my existence be unlikely, it is unquestionable that my standard of living has improved immensely. I feel better now than I have done my entire life – a sense of energy that I never enjoyed with my old heart.   

Organ donation has provided me with the gift of life, as it has done for many others. What we must do now is encourage the message of its merits to be spread. It is truly the most generous thing a person can possibly do – whether said person is a agreeing that the organs of a clinically dead loved-one be donated or the extremely selfless act that is living organ donation.  

I cannot begin to thank all of the people in my life who have assisted me over this period, ranging from my wonderful family and friends to the fantastic medical staff in the Mater Hospital, Dublin. Of course, it is to the donor family whom I will never know that I must express the greatest gratitude. 

Kevin has subsequently returned to UCD in order to complete a law degree.

He would like to stress his availability to speak with anyone affected by transplantation, especially younger people. He may be contacted on This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or (087) 0536994


Last Updated on Thursday, 12 May 2016 16:23

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