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'Gratitude' Kildare dad 'embraces life' after heart transplant journey

Adopted at birth, the father-of-three had no medical records and no knowledge that there might be a family history of cardiomyopathy, which he was diagnosed with in 2004.

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Niall Whiteley

Niall Whiteley

Niall Whiteley

A heart transplant recipient has shared the story of how he got a “second chance at life” for Organ Donor Awareness Week.

Niall Whiteley (51), from Knavinstown in Co. Kildare, underwent a life-saving heart transplant at the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in late 2019.

Adopted at birth, the father-of-three had no medical records and no knowledge that there might be a family history of cardiomyopathy, which he was diagnosed with in 2004.

Niall said that he’s often put his health issues on the back burner but knew something was seriously wrong in June 2019, when he suffered heart arrhythmia, resulting in a bad fall in his kitchen and a skull fracture.

“My children were there when it happened and it was a serious shock to them. This left further complications, it left me deaf in my right ear, and much reduced sense of taste and smell,” he explained.

“Despite this I returned to work and was still trying my best to coach at my local LGFA club, Ellistown.

“I knew I was running out of time but was in denial. I was going downhill rapidly, everyone could see it, my family, friends and work colleagues.

“I was falling asunder under the strain my heart was in, trying to keep me going, but I wasn't looking in the mirror at myself to see my decline.”

In October 2019, Niall was sent to the Mater Hospital where he found out that doctors had deemed him a suitable candidate for a heart transplant.

“[I felt] relief but new fears, the unknown, elation, pain, confusion, every emotion in every heartbeat. Would I survive? I was already in serious bad shape before I'm operated on at all.

“Then the thoughts of another family who are losing a loved one, an enormous sacrifice, to donate an organ, an immeasurable gift, to keep me alive. These thoughts never leave you.”

Niall recalled the strange feelings he experienced after his transplant.

“Some days of induced coma later, a glimmer, the slow process of returning to life begins. I made it. The battle to recovery begins.

“It's a slow recovery process, basically a newborn again. Learning to walk again, I'd been off my feet for a long time and was very weak.

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“I returned home five weeks later. The first year was the hardest, setbacks were common, medication fine-tuning, infections, illnesses.”

Since his operation, Niall has been busy with his recovery journey and cherishes coaching at his GAA club, the outdoors, and spending time with his family.

“The time I spent in hospital gave me a real appreciation of life and the amazing work that our medical and nursing staff do in caring for patients' physical and emotional needs.

“I hope by sharing my story people will see how important Organ Donation and Transplantation is, and they have the conversation with their loved ones about organ donation and let their wishes be known.

“Were it not for my organ donor family, I wouldn't be here today for my wife and family, and my children wouldn't have a father...

“I am now back working and in my spare time when not with my family, nothing makes me happier than passing the hours away peacefully all on my own on my boat fishing.”

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