Edel and Moira O'Brien.

Mother and daughter mark 40th anniversary of kidney transplant

Almost 40 years ago, a Tyrrellspass mother of five gave the gift of life to her only daughter for the second time. Aged nine years, Edel O’Brien, daughter of Moira and the late Paddy O’Brien, was gravely ill and in desperate need of a kidney transplant.

This week, as the Irish Kidney Association (IKA) celebrated the 40th anniversary of the founding of the organisation, and the birth of the kidney donor card, Edel and Moira supported the drive to increase awareness of the lifesaving role donor cards can play in giving hope to people awaiting vital organ transplants.

Back in 1978, Edel, the O’Briens’ only daughter in a family of five, had been extremely ill and confined to a hospital bed for almost a year and her medical team realised that her best chance of survival was through a transplant. Both her parents were assessed and Moira was deemed the more suitable match than her husband, Paddy, proprietor of one of the most successful businesses in the midlands, O’Briens Garage on the Lynn Road, Mullingar.

Just months earlier, Moira had given birth to her fifth child, a bouncing baby boy weighing 12lb, but once she was adjudged the best option for the transplant, she was determined to give Edel a new lease of life.

Times were very different 40 years ago and while there are now 23 centres where dialysis patients can access treatment, there were only three back then.

Edel’s recollection of those dark days were of being the “only child surrounded by elderly patients”, but she also recalled being “spoilt by the staff in Jervis Street and St Mary’s in the Phoenix Park, because she was the only child”.

Amidst the worry and the illness, there were happy memories also of her cousin from Dublin coming to visit her and of them playing ‘dress-up’. On one occasion, the girls dressed up as nurses and the hospital photographer was on hand, as he regularly was, to capture the fun.

The transplant was carried out on December 15, 1978 and made both local and national headlines with the President of Ireland, Dr Patrick Hillery, calling to see Moira and Edel, as they recovered from the life-saving operation.

Fortunately, the operation proved to be a complete success and, thanks to the transplant, Edel (now 49) and living in Mullingar, hasn’t looked back since and is a busy businesswoman and mother of four children ranging in age from 15 years to 29 years.

Part of a family business, Edel runs a busy service station and shop and car dealership in Mullingar while her husband, John Farrell, runs a car dealership in Tullamore.

A grandmother of 13 children, Moira continues to reside in Tyrrellspass. She is now 76 years old, still going strong and remains thankful that she was able to assist Edel when her need was greatest. Both women are testament to the gift of life emanating from organ donation.