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Transplant Teens Scaling the ski heights

Three Irish teenagers who have undergone organ transplants took part in a ski camp in Anzere, Switzerland, called TACKERS, made possible by the gifts of life they received from deceased organ donors.

Kidney transplant recipients Gearoid Wrafter from Tullamore, Co. Offaly and Matthew Holland from Ardcroney, Nenagh in Co. Tipperary along with liver transplant recipient Maeve O’Donoghue from Clontarf, Dublin took part in the fun event from 10th to 17th March which brought together transplant children from around the world.

The camp which has been running for over seventeen years is the brainchild of a liver transplant recipient Liz Schick who continues to be involved. The name TACKERS is an acronym for Transplant Adventure Camp for Kids. The aim of the annual camp is to develop independence amongst young transplant recipients by trying out skiing and snowboarding and other fun activities while developing a support network amongst their peers and their families. The event promotes good health and the celebration of life post-transplant while showcasing the success of organ transplantation.

Colin White who is the National Projects Manager with the Irish Kidney Association, which runs a sports programme for dialysis and transplant adults and children, has been accompanying children and teenagers to TACKERS for several years. He said that, “TACKERS was as amazing as ever this year. It was a pleasure to be there with Maeve, Gearoid and Matthew, who really embraced the event demonstrating a great sense of fun, positivity and determination to give everything a try. TACKERS is a wonderful opportunity for young people to assert their independence, make new friends with young people from around the world and gain insights into their respective health journeys.

Maeve O’Donoghue from Clontarf, Dublin was born with a liver condition, Biliary Atresia, and other complications.  Maeve underwent a life-saving liver transplant at Kings College Hospital London in 2011 when she was 7 years old. Maeve and twin sister Alanna’s mother, Sylvia Webb, is the coordinator for Children’s Liver Disease Ireland, a patient support organisation for families of children with liver disease.  Sylvia said, “Maeve hasn’t stopped talking about the camp since she returned home. It was a really positive experience for her and she got to make friends with people from all over the world. Since Maeve returned she has kept in contact with her new friends on Snapchat including an Australian girl.”

Gearoid Wrafter, also 14, from Loughaun, Tullamore underwent his kidney transplant in May 2012 a week before his eight birthday. He been diagnosed with a hereditary form of chronic kidney disease when he was six years old which his kidney transplant aunt Carmel Donlon from Longford also has.  Through careful management and medication  it was possible to slow down the progression of his kidney failure although as his kidney function was continuing to decline he was being prepared for dialysis treatment .  He was on the transplant waiting list for just seven weeks when he was called for his life changing kidney transplant in February 2015.   His mother Theresa explains, “Gearoid has been doing really well and enjoying good health since his transplant which is thanks to a deceased donor. He can now lead a normal life and is in second year at Killina Presentation School.    TACKERS proved to be a trip of a lifetime for Gearoid. It sparked something really positive in him boosting his independence and confidence and already he seems more outgoing and is enjoying a sense of togetherness with his transplant peers, away from a hospital environment, whom he continues to communicate with since his return through Snapchat. As a parent you want to encourage your child to grow up to live an independent life and the camp ethos embodies the development of this and plays it out in a really fun way.”

Matthew Holland, age 14, from Ardcroney in Nenagh underwent a kidney transplant in February 2015 and is the son of proud parents Jackie and Michael Holland. Michael said,   “TACKERS was a hugely positive experience for our youngest son Matthew and he had a fantastic time on his first ever ski trip and has now a huge network of friends from all over the world. In fact they are eager to meet up again and have been talking on Snapchat about reuniting at a future Transplant Games event.”

Organ Donor Awareness Week 2019 which is organised by the Irish Kidney Association, will take place from 30 March until 6 April.

There are approximately 550 people in Ireland awaiting life-saving heart, lung, liver, kidney and pancreas transplants. Thanks to the gift of organ donation almost 4,000 transplanted people in Ireland are enjoying extended life.

The focus of Organ Donor Awareness Week is to remind individuals to talk to their families about their organ donation wishes and keep the reminders of their decision visible by carrying the organ donor card and permitting Code 115 to be included on their driver’s license or downloading the ‘digital organ donor card’ APP to their smartphone.

Organ Donor Awareness Week also serves as a fundraising exercise for the Irish Kidney Association. Throughout the Week (March 30th – April 6th 2019), the Association’s volunteers will be out on the streets, and in shopping centres throughout the country, distributing organ donor cards while selling ‘forget-me-not-flower’ emblems, brooches, pens and shopping trolley discs. All proceeds go towards the Irish Kidney Association’s aid for patients on dialysis and those patients fortunate enough to have received a kidney transplant. The Irish Kidney Association’s charitable activities include the provision of a 13-double bedroom, free accommodation facility for patients and their families in the grounds of Beaumont Hospital and plans for the development of a similar facility at Cork University Hospital are underway. Patients, many who would otherwise be unable to travel and take family holidays due to the constraints of dialysis treatment, can avail of IKA holiday centres located in Tramore, Killarney and Tralee.  The Irish Kidney Association also provides patient advocacy, advice, counselling, financial aid and rehabilitative, health promotion through sport and the provision of kidney patient information and education through its head office in Dublin and its 25-branch network of volunteers nationwide.

Information fact files, which accompany the free organ donor cards, are obtainable from the Irish Kidney Association and are available nationwide from pharmacies, GP surgeries and post offices.

Organ Donor Cards can also be obtained by phoning the Irish Kidney Association tel. 01 6205306 or Free text the word DONOR to 50050. Visit website   You can now download a free ‘digital organ donor card’ APP to your phone.