A FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD Lisnaskea girl, who received a heart transplant three years ago, has spoken of the importance of organ donation to her, and to her family.
Kirsty Clarke, a pupil at the now closed Lisnaskea High School who is preparing for her GCSEs next year received her heart transplant on March 13, 2009 at Freemans Hospital in Newcastle after a suitable heart was donated.
This week is national organ donation week and this also coincides with Wales being the first country in the UK to introduce a mandatory ‘opt out’ system for organ donation – as opposed to the ‘opt in’ system we have here.
Kirsty’s mother Sharon said she thinks everyone should go onto the donor list, and she said what Wales are doing should be copied here – the ‘opt out’ system.
“You just don’t realise how worthwhile being an organ donor could be until you go through it yourself” she said.
Sharon knows Kirsty wouldn’t have survived without a suitable heart being donated.
Sharon Clarke explains that Kirsty first became sick in 2008 and it was discovered that a virus had attacked the left side of her heart meaning only 25 – 30% of her heart functioned.
“It was when Kirsty was in her last year at primary school. She had shortness of breath, she lost weight and wasn’t fit to play. “You could see her heart jumping through her T-shirt – it was beating very quickly and wouldn’t slow down.”
Sharon said they took Kirsty to the doctor who immediately referred her to children’s ward in the hospital. She was then referred to the Royal.
Kirsty had a pacemaker and defibrillator fitted in July in Belfast and initially the family were told this should keep her heart working for some time.
Kirsty was on steroids for a number of months but once she came off them in October her health started to decline and she lost weight and suffered nausea.
On Boxing Day 2008 she became sick and they went Dr Lipscomb in the children’s ward of the Erne who then referred them to Belfast where the Clarke’s were told the terrible news that Kirsty would need a heart transplant as soon as possible.
Kirsty was put on a world-wide register, which meant they were looking anywhere in the world for a suitable heart for her.
“At the start of 2009 we were called over twice to Freeman’s Hospital in Newcastle for a possible transplant – when organs were located – but it turned out they weren’t a suitable match.
“On March 12, 2010 we went over to Newcastle and Kirsty had her operation on March 13. And we weren’t home again in Fermanagh until May day.
Kirsty hasn’t looked back since the transplant and she gets ‘shared care’ between the Royal in Belfast and Freeman’s Hospital in Newcastle.
“At the start we had to go over every eight weeks for check-ups but now Kirsty can get her bloods done in the South West Acute Hospital and they send them over to Newcastle.
Although Kirsty will be on medication for the rest of her life she is now able to lead a normal life, and has already taken part in the Transplant Games where she won silver in the breast stroke swimming.
Asked if they know where the donated heart came from Sharon said all they were told is it came from a young girl.
“We think about that family all the time.” Through the transplant team Kirsty wrote her donor’s family a letter thanking them for the donation, and telling them a bit about her and the difference the donation has made.