Paradise for organ recipient thanks to Limerick man

Alan Owens


Alan Owens

Johnny Paradise, Corbally: the 27-year-old pictured this week in Limerick not long after an operation to donate a kidney. The UL graduate made the decision to altruistically donate a kidney after seeing GAA star Joe Brolly do the same thing. [Picture: Adrian Butler]
JOHNNY Paradise’s drive to donate a kidney was influenced by GAA star Joe Brolly, but the key factor lay in the desire to help another, regardless of who that person was.

JOHNNY Paradise’s drive to donate a kidney was influenced by GAA star Joe Brolly, but the key factor lay in the desire to help another, regardless of who that person was.

The 27-year-old financial analyst from Corbally made the decision to altruistically donate a kidney after discovering that you can live a perfectly normal life with just one remaining organ, which he learned from Brolly’s documentary.

In fact, says Johnny, now something of an expert on the topic, one in 750 people only have one kidney without ever realising it. The UL business graduate gave away one of his two in recent weeks, – thereby changing someone’s life forever.

But the path, almost a year in total, was littered with challenges. At which point, a lesser mortal might have conceded defeat. First up was natural resistance from friends and family.

“People would come to me with these health arguments, which are actually all wrong, but you can’t blame them for being concerned,” says Johnny. “They are emotionally driven and once you kind of reassure them of the facts, all of these issues get pushed to one side. If it was your sibling or parent, and you would do it, then why not someone you don’t know?

“Your issue is not with the kidney donation process, it is a philosophical issue – why would you care about someone that you don’t know, which is everyone’s argument.

“But there was no way....,” his voice trails off. “I didn’t see the reason not to,” he admits simply.

“Some of the biggest opponents of it would have been some of my friends who really tried to talk me out of it. I had to always be very patient because I could understand where they were coming from

“You have to be objective, remove emotion from the conversation, which is impossible for a lot of people to do. But if you do that, you will know that I am making the right decision here.”

The second obstacle was that the legislation does not exist in Ireland to cover the altruistic donation process. It does however, exist in the UK and Northern Ireland.

“It absolutely should exist [here],” he argues now, agreeing with Brolly, who has campaigned for an opt-in approach to organ donation.

“That is the hope - I had to go to Belfast to do this. It didn’t bother me in the slightest that the person getting this is in the UK, it is irrelevant, it is a human being and that is the end of it.”

Johnny underwent physical testing, legal and psych-assessment before he was cleared to donate. A fit young man who looks after himself, he was a prime candidate.

He walked into the operating theatre under his own steam and was out for about four hours. Johnny says that the surgeons told him they removed “the biggest kidney they had ever seen”.

“It was about a third bigger than they expected. They said it was huge – which is a good thing because it is almost like a bigger engine,” he laughs.

“What happens is, the kidney that is left, the body realises immediately that it is doing twice the amount of work that it was doing the day before, so it grows to cope with that stress and is more than capable of doing it.”

Johnny found out shortly before the operation – a week or so – that the recipient was a man with three children, living on dialysis. The information, while unnecessary in influencing his decision, did help.

“The system is almost perfectly anonymous. I said I don’t need to know information about the recipient, but is nice to know the family situation, that kind of thing. It allows you to gauge the impact it might have on their lives.

“I had no doubt whatsoever that I would be in perfect health after it. I was also doing it in the knowledge that there is one less person on dialysis, one less person waiting to die. Can you imagine what this Christmas is going to be like for that family? It is going to be the best Christmas they have ever had, because the worry is gone.”