Giving the Gift of Life

IKAThe Irish Kidney Association (IKA) is a charity for kidney patients and their carers which provides important free services nationwide.

As a kidney patient, ‘normal’ life can be impacted in many ways along with the lives of each patient’s family members.

Among the services the IKA provides are financial support, counselling, dialysis holiday co-ordination, sports and fitness programmes, advocacy, patient guides, a quarterly magazine, and accommodation in a 13 bed support centre on the grounds of Beaumont Hospital.

Ray Halligan is Chairperson of the IKA Waterford branch.

He also sits on the IKA national executive board which meets monthly.

Ray began his involvement with the association while he was a dialysis patient.

In 1995, he was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease.

“I was told at the time that there wouldn’t be a cure for it and I would have to try to manage it as best I could. I was doing quite well but in the latter stages of 2007, my kidney function began to deteriorate and I had to go on dialysis three times a week for four hour sessions,” Ray explained.

“It’s a tough regime but it’s a lifesaving regime. There is a fantastic dialysis unit in Waterford.”

Ray can vividly recall the moment when he was informed that he would receive a transplant.

“I got the call on June 26th 2010 at 3.45am to head straight to Beaumont for the transplant which took place later that day,” said Ray.

He spent around eight weeks in Beaumont Hospital as he recovered.

Ray explained that he felt a mixture of emotions as he prepared to undergo the kidney transplant.

“I remember a taxi driver saying to me ‘you must be elated’ but it was tinged with sadness because I knew I was getting an organ from a family of somebody who had died. You don’t get to know who your donor was but through the transplant co-ordinator you can send on a letter of thank you to their family. There’s a mixture of sadness, elation and gratitude,” said Ray.

“It gives you a new perspective on life and its value. My grandmother always said ‘your health is your wealth’ but you only come to realise that when you don’t have your health. It’s like water – you take it for granted but without it you don’t survive. It makes you appreciate life more, and when people are sick you empathise with them and stop and think. My thoughts are with people who are on dialysis out there. A percentage of those won’t get a transplant for various reasons such as health issues or age. Another percentage of people are waiting for that call, and it’s a call which will save their life.”

He continued: “I’m involved with the association to give something back and to show my appreciation. We have great members who do all the ground work. So many people are trying to get money from the same pot so it’s very hard, but the people in this city and county are so generous.”

Ray Halligan of the Irish Kidney Association’s Waterford branch.

Ray Halligan of the Irish Kidney Association’s Waterford branch.

Ray believes the issue of organ donation is still a topic which many people are reluctant to address.

“It’s a very delicate subject. If somebody belonging to you dies it can be a very traumatic time but if that person is an organ donor they can give the gift of life to somebody else, as happened in my case,” he said.

Ray was approached by Vera Frisby of the Waterford IKA, who he described as the “cornerstone of the organisation” in Waterford, and was asked to join the branch.

He praised her efforts along with that of her husband Eddie (particularly in relation to dialysis holiday co-ordination) and branch secretary Susan Cowman.

Ray became chairperson of the branch three years ago.

The branch has a membership of about 50 people and meets on a monthly basis.

“Our work centres on organ donor awareness, getting the message out to carry a donor card and to be an organ donor because it saves lives,” said Ray.

“Organ Donor Awareness Week, which takes place throughout the country, is our major fundraising event. Our collection this year was actually up slightly on last year which was tremendous given the current economic climate and considering that people’s disposable income is now limited. We sold our forgot me knot flowers and other bits and pieces all over the city and county. We made over €15,000 which was phenomenal. Every cent goes towards helping the patients.”

He continued: “On the back of all the controversies with various charities, we were apprehensive of the reaction we would get but people were very generous. 78 per cent of all funding we receive comes from the generosity of the general public. We received funding of up to €600,000 back in 2006, but now that has gone down to €150,000. We are always trying to raise money to keep the organisation going.”

Two major fundraising events will take place locally during the coming weeks, and Ray is hopeful that the public will once again show support for the IKA.

A sponsored walk from Portlaw to Carrick-on-Suir will take place on Sunday August 31st.

“It’s not a race, you can do it at you own leisure,” explained Ray.

“It starts at The Forge Bar at 3pm, heading to Wall’s Bar, Carrickbeg. We’re asking people to take a sponsorship card, but if they can’t fill a card, don’t worry about it, because whatever you raise it will be money which we wouldn’t otherwise have had.”

A Field Day will take place in Newtown, Kilmacthomas on August 17th.

This annual event is a popular attraction and is sure to be a great day out once again this year.

“This year the IKA will receive half of the takings and it’s going to be a fantastic day featuring vintage cars, bouncy castles etc.” explained Ray.

For further information on upcoming events and the activities of the IKA Waterford branch, contact Ray on 086-8375563.

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