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Your Health

Paramedic Jason McKenna’s lifesaving transplant

As an Advanced Paramedic Jason McKenna is used to being a lifesaver. But, according to the Monaghan man, every single person has the potential to save multiple lives if they agree to become an organ donor.

13 years ago, Jason himself received the gift of life when he had a kidney transplant.

In expressing his gratitude to his donor, Jason, who is now 40 years old, said, “Organ donation can mean different things to different people. As a transplant recipient, to me organ donation means an extended and normal life and being able to enjoy things that people take for granted. It also means the freedom to travel, to feel healthy and to make decisions without the constraints that constant medical care apply.”

“Without my transplant I could not have the life that everyone takes as the norm, nor would I have been able to pursue my career in pre-hospital care and commit to the level of education I have achieved.”

“I would not have the energy that my four-year-old daughter expects from me and it’s her energy that reminds me every day how life-changing, and how life-saving organ donation really is.”

In December 1999, as a 20-year-old living in New York, Jason’s kidney began to fail and he was told he would have to go on dialysis immediately. He had been working in the US on building sites so could not afford the medical care there and took the next available flight home.

When his plane touched down at Dublin Airport, Jason was rushed to the Emergency Department of the Beaumont Hospital where he was connected to a dialysis machine. He spent almost three weeks in Dublin and by coincidence was discharged on the same day he had originally booked his flight to visit home to celebrate the new Millennium.

After nine months of dialysis at Cavan General Hospital, he got news that a donor kidney had become available. Unfortunately, the transplant was not successful and failed almost straight away. Complications left Jason in a critical condition and it was thought that he might not pull through.

Jason thankfully recovered and he remained positive while waiting for a second donor kidney to become available.

“I think I was able to stay positive through it all because I had youth on my side. I was in my 20s and although I was going through dialysis, I still felt energetic. I met plenty of people in their 50s and 60s doing dialysis too who weren’t able to do the things that other people their age were doing. But I was working full-time, doing nights at a security company while I got my dialysis during the day. I was able to have a normal life. And sure for me, kidney problems and hospitals were normal . My kidney issues started when I was six months old so I always had to work my life around those hospital visits and stays. It was all normal for me,” he said.

Jason went back on dialysis for another five-and-a-half years. By 2005 his family members had started the process of being considered for living donation, although he was initially hesitant about putting them through it. Eventually he came around to the idea but in January 2006 he hit another health setback and ended up back in hospital.

It was soon after this that another donor kidney became available. He was successfully transplanted in April 2006.

 “It is such an important thing for somebody to do. Organ donation is literally lifesaving. Your donation could help a number of people, save or transform their lives. I would encourage anyone who is unsure about whether or not to become an organ donor to check out the Irish Kidney Association website or Facebook page to read the stories of people who, like myself, have had transplants, and family members who donated their loved ones’ organs. It certainly puts it into perspective,” he said.

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Jason, who works with the National Ambulance Service and is stationed at Castleblayney, said he enjoys the fact that he gets to help many people every day at work.

“I spent so much time in hospital when I was younger that I always said that I might as well stay there! I really love my job, every day is completely different,” he said.

Jason’s interest in pre-hospital care was sparked in 2005 by a friend who was pursuing it as a career.

“I did a first responder course. Then I got a part-time position driving for a private ambulance company. Then I did my Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) training in 2007 and joined the National Ambulance Service in 2011,” he explained.

Having worked as a paramedic for several years, he continued his studies where he completed the Advanced Paramedic programme in 2018. Coincidently, one of his jobs was working with Lifeline Ambulance Service which transports transplant teams and coordinators around the country. He has also brought patients to Dublin for heart and lung transplants.

13 years on, Jason said he still appreciates how lucky he was to get a second chance at life thanks to his donor.

Professor  Jim Egan, Director HSE, Organ Donation Transplant Ireland  added “In 2018, 234 life-saving transplant surgeries took place thanks to the enormous generosity of 81 families who donated the organs of their loved ones. 40 individuals also donated living kidneys and radically changed the lives of their recipients. Our message is simple:  Organ Donation Saves Lives.”-. 

An Post with the support of the HSE’S Organ Donation Transplant Office have recently issued a special national postage stamp highlighting the importance of organ donation to the lives of people living in Ireland and to encourage everyone to talk with family about their wish to be an organ donor #havethatconversation.  Talk to  your family about organ donation  and let them know your wishes. You can also keep reminders of your decision visible by carrying an organ donor card and permitting Code 115 to be included on their driver’s licence or downloading the ‘digital organ donor card’ APP to their smartphone.

Organ Donor Cards are currently available in Post Offices across the country and  can also be obtained by phoning the Irish Kidney Association on 01 6205306 or Free text the word DONOR to 50050. You can also visit the website, or download a free ‘digital organ donor card’ APP to your phone.

Further information can be found here: www.hse.ie/organ-donation