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Julie’s Story – Organ Donor Awareness Week 2024

Written by Julie Egan, Donegal Town, (formerly Killarney) who underwent a simultaneous kidney and pancreas transplant at Vincent’s Hospital last year after 4 years of dialysis treatment and over two decades living with diabetes and daily insulin injections.

My name is Julie Egan. I am 36 years old, and I live in Donegal town. My life changed utterly for the better last year thanks to a deceased organ donor.

Soon after moving back from New York to Killarney, Co Kerry, I was diagnosed with type one Diabetes. I was just eleven when my world was turned upside down.  My life became a constant struggle. Hospitalizations due to complications with my diabetes plagued my youth, teenage, and early adulthood years.

It was a very scary and stressful experience for me in early adolescence and I did not process it well.  I  suffered from anxiety and depression as a teenager. I developed a rebellious attitude and was very angry as I felt powerless that regardless of how hard I tried I was never going to get my Diabetes under control and I had resigned to thinking that I was going to end up in a horrific state as my illness took a tighter grip on me.

I managed to progress into adulthood with the daily regime of insulin injections, glucose and diet monitoring and by then had learned to live with the illness with an acceptance and with a greater understanding and management of my lifestyle.

By this time I was living independently in Cork city, away from my family, trying my best to begin my third-level education journey as a mature student but this proved impossible due to my health declining.

I then decided to move back in with my family who were now living in Donegal Town. From there on my whole health started to crumble. I woke up one morning but could barely see, my eyesight was almost gone. It was such a shock and very frightening! I then went to get my eyes checked at Sligo University Hospital and my diagnosis was bleak. An unwanted consequence of Diabetes which affects some patients, I had developed retinopathy and Macular edema which caused blurry vision as my eyesight began fail. From there I began a series of eye treatments that continued for the next two years and which included many laser surgery corrections, and my least favourite was steroid eye injections every month. During those two years, my vision had declined rapidly and due to multiple eye haemorrhaging, I had complete loss of vision for almost six months! I then underwent major eye surgery at the Mater Hospital in Dublin. The team that looked after me there was amazing. They saved my vision! Although my eyesight has been damaged severely and with partial blindness, I feel so incredibly lucky to be able to see.

Managing diabetes was more than just avoiding sugar; it consumed me physically and mentally.

My health declined further in my mid-20s. Persistent urinary and kidney infections became a new challenge.

I struggled to maintain my energy levels and experienced swelling all over my body, indicating potential kidney issues. Eventually, blood tests confirmed my worst fears: my kidney function was declining rapidly.

Now, I was not only battling diabetes but also the prospect of kidney failure. Dialysis became my lifeline, but it also felt like a burden, leaving me with little energy and frequent ICU visits. Even surviving COVID-19 was a challenge. I then contacted TB and endured rigorous testing, after which I was finally placed on the transplant list at St. Vincent’s University Hospital for a kidney and pancreas transplant.

In Spring 2023, I received a call for a simultaneous kidney and pancreas transplant, which was a total success. Waking up, I felt like a weight had been lifted. No more insulin injections and the four years of dialysis sessions which I had to undergo three times a week, leaving close to 2,000 hours on a dialysis machine behind me. I could finally live, not just exist.

The emotions overwhelmed me. Gratitude, relief, and disbelief flooded my heart. To think that someone’s selfless act, their decision to donate organs, had given me a second chance at life. It’s a feeling I struggle to put into words.

Now, I can dream again. Traveling was once a distant dream, but now it’s within reach. In fact, I wrote this while away in Malaga for my studies. My partner and I talk excitedly about trips and holidays we want to take, and making memories that I never thought possible.

But beyond the adventures, it’s the everyday things that I cherish the most. Waking up each morning without the burden of illness weighing me down is a gift I never take for granted. I can plan for the future without the shadow of fear hanging over me.

I owe my newfound life to my donor and their family, whose gift of life I cherish every day. I’m grateful for the support of my loved ones, my parents have been with me through all the ups and downs, and also all  nursing and medical staff who cared for me, at Sligo Hospital and Letterkenny Dialysis Unit, The Mater Hospital, and Beaumont Hospital; The staff at St Vincent’s Hospital with a special mention to my surgeon Tom Gallagher and transplant coordinators Caroline and Maura; and not forgetting the dialysis patients I met along the way who were a great support and also Frank Mc Guinness Transport and the taxi drivers who drove me to and from dialysis. My employer Donegal Bay Waterbus have been very supportive. There are so many people to thank but I would not be here today sharing my story were it not for my donor.

My future now holds hope, excitement, and immense gratitude. Organ donation transformed my life, and I’ll forever advocate for its importance.

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