Brotherly love is a life saver for Mattie

Lifestyle – Judy Murphy hears of the impact of living donors for people in need of a transplant

”I could spend all evening and the most of the weekend explaining what this transplant means to me and I don’t think I would get it across to you,” says Mattie Hoban about the change that has taken place in his life since receiving a kidney transplant seven months ago.

Sitting across the table from Mattie is his brother Sean, the man whose donation is responsible for giving Mattie back his quality of life.
Sean isn’t looking for any glory for donating a kidney to his older brother – the reason he has agreed to be interviewed, he says honestly, is to demonstrate that living donation is not only possible, but that it can be hugely successful.

The two brothers live near each other in Abbey-Duniry, East Galway, and it’s obvious that they are very close. Sean, who is self-employed, runs a garage, while Mattie has a small farm. Years ago he was a lorry driver, but that all changed drastically back in 1989. He went to the doctor suffering from tiredness and was initially prescribed an antibiotic for a kidney infection.

When that didn’t work, the doctor sent him to a kidney specialist in Merlin Park Hospital. The father of three young children, aged between 12 and six years of age was told almost immediately that he was suffering from kidney failure and needed to begin dialysis immediately.

It was a dreadful shock for Mattie and his wife Kathleen, but there was no other option. He was very sick during the dialysis, but a year and a half later a kidney became available and he received a transplant.

Unknown to Mattie and Kathleen, Sean had put out feelers about becoming a living donor way back then, but while that was allowed in other countries, it wasn’t being done in Ireland at the time.

The kidney he received worked, “but it wasn’t 100 per cent”, Mattie recalls, adding that he still wasn’t able to return to work.

Eventually it also started to fail, and by 1997, after being checked by transplant experts in Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital, he was back on dialysis. Again, he was back to Merlin Park three times weekly, being hooked up to a machine so that toxins could be filtered from his body. He was fortunate in that it only lasted a couple of months – by early 1998, another kidney had become available.
“The second was brilliant and I got a good 10 years out of it,” he says.
For Mattie one of the highlights of getting that kidney is a thing most of us don’t even think about and it’s the simple act of drinking water.

When you are on dialysis you are restricted to 500 ml of water a day – very little. After he got that transplant, he wasn’t allowed water for several days – the nurses and his family would just wet his lips. “Then the doctor came in and said ‘you are on free fluids from today’,

meaning I could have water. It was better than winning the Lottery.”
But 10 years later, it failed. Mattie explains that some people who receive kidney transplants can “have them for 20 or 30 years, but there are no guarantees”.

Over 20 years ago, when he was first diagnosed, the average lifespan for a transplanted kidney was seven years, but that has improved hugely, thanks to advances in medicine.

However, for Mattie, because he’d had a build up of antibodies over time, as a reaction to the previous two kidneys being put into his body, it was getting more difficult to get a match, he says.

He went back on dialysis in 2007 and was on it for five years. He got great care from the staff in Merlin Park’s dialysis unit but it was a grim time, he says.

“Dialysis keeps you alive, but you can’t live,” he explains, outlining the dietary restrictions involved when a person has kidney failure, not to mention the constant visits to specialists on top of the three days of dialysis every week at Merlin Park.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.