The first day of school is a milestone that carries emotions for every family, but for one family in Cork, this day held particular significance. Jessica Stone was filled with joy as she watched her five-year-old son Zack walk hand in hand with his older sister Ellie (7) and their father Michael whom Zack had received a donor kidney from less than a year before. This day (29th August) symbolised a journey of resilience and hope for a cross-cultural family who had chosen Ireland as their home more than a decade ago.
The journey to this moment had been far from smooth. Zack’s mother, Jessica Stone, originally from East Sussex in England, reflected on the significance of the short half mile walk they took from their home to the school, Mallow CNS. Jessica described the challenges they had faced since Zack’s birth. “Soon after his arrival, he fell seriously ill and had to be urgently transferred from Cork University Hospital to Temple Street Hospital. He was diagnosed with Acute Renal Failure, with one Multicystic Dysplastic Kidney and Renal Dysplasia, conditions which meant his kidneys hadn’t developed properly and a kidney transplant was inevitable. This marked the beginning of a series of hospital stays and medical challenges, turning Temple Street Hospital into a second home for Zack.”
For Michael, a native of Strasbourg, France, he described how “seeing my son start school is a testament to our family’s journey for the past five years. Zack had spent fifteen months on nightly dialysis at home, a routine that often came with complications. Through it all Zack was a great little patient. Zack has shown us what bravery truly means. Those nights on dialysis were tough for him but this was his normality. Today, seeing him walk to school gives us a sense of great pride”.
For parents Jessica and Michael, after he was born the situation was doubly demanding. They balanced the needs of their then two-year-old daughter Ellie while constantly commuting between their home in Mallow and hospital in Dublin. Family support was limited due to their distant homes in the UK and France, but everyone pulled together to support Zack, with Jessica’s mum travelling from the UK frequently to support the family. Despite this, both parents managed to navigate their professional lives with the understanding support of their employer, an international tech company, where they had met eleven years prior. Jessica took maternity and carer’s leave before returning to work, and then followed Michael’s extended carer’s leave for two years, allowing them to share the responsibility of caring for Zack and his sister Ellie.
The day of the transplant, which occurred on 3rd October 2022, remained etched in their memories. Jessica vividly recalled the anxiety of waiting at Temple Street Hospital while her husband Michael underwent surgery to donate his kidney across the city at Beaumont Hospital. Both surgeries were successful, marking a turning point in their journey. Jessica said, “I’ll never forget that day. Waiting for news about both Michael and Zack felt like the longest day of my life, but looking at them now, it was all worth it”.
When asked about his decision to donate his kidney, a pragmatic Michael declared, “It was a natural step as a parent, a way of providing for my family. I view it not as a grand gesture, but as an extension of my role. Zack can now begin a new chapter of education, fun and making new friends at school. He no longer has a restricted diet and it’s wonderful to watch him grow and take up new hobbies like swimming and football which he really loves. He now has a chance to enjoy a normal childhood.”
Both Michael and Jessica emphasised their respect for the medical staff who cared for Zack, acknowledging their compassion in challenging circumstances. They expressed gratitude to the healthcare system for saving Zack’s life. The family had also found support in the Irish Kidney Association, and wished to thank the charity for helping them by providing overnight accommodation in Dublin and helping other families in similar situations who have to travel from the country to Dublin hospitals for care.
Jessica concluded, “Our journey is a testament to the power of hope that transplantation gives. And it is our hope that by sharing our story, we can inspire others to consider organ donation. It is truly life changing.”
Michael added, “Transplantation isn’t a cure, but it is an amazing treatment that gives us a news sense of normality. It’s about quality of life, about giving hope where it is needed most.”