THREE year-old Isabel Sweeney has already received the best Christmas present of all - the gift of life.
The gorgeous little Bruree girl’s life was saved by her dad, Martin, who became one of the first people in Ireland to donate part of his liver in May.
A chronic liver condition, biliary atresia, was causing Isabel’s organ to fail.
After the operation in London, surgeons estimated that Isabel’s liver would have only worked for two more months.
Now she has just received a clean bill of health from her six-month check-up.
“Within the first 24 hours, few weeks and six months you have a very high risk of rejection. We’re not out of the woods but she is doing fantastic.
“We all read about what happened to Joe Brolly, and I know another mother who gave her liver to her son and it didn’t work,” said Martin, who took the decision to put his own health at risk because, “you would do anything for your child”.
The operation took 10 hours and despite the drugs he can vividly remember waking up and seeing his wife, Nikki, at the side of the bed.
“She said, ‘it looks like it worked’. That’s all I was worried about. Isabel basically bounced back more or less the first day. Within seven or eight days she was running around the corridor as I was going around in my wheelchair!
“It took me about a month to get back on my feet properly but when you see her getting better, I was getting better,” said Martin.
He compares the effect of the transplant to “flicking a switch”.
“Someone took away our sick child and gave us back a healthy child.
“Like all children she is looking forward to Christmas and she wants dolls from Santa,” said Martin.
While he and Isabel get all the attention, he says the real hero is his wife, Nikki.
“It is hard enough for a couple to see your child going through this. You would have more support together but Nikki had to see her child and then this fellow inside in the theatre as well. It was tough for her but she was fantastic,” said Martin.
He describes 2012 as a “rollercoaster”.
“At the start of the year we found out Isabel was sick, then we found out I was a match and that was great news.
“Then she got sick again and we had to do the transplant fairly quickly and cancel the wedding. We got married in November so it has been an emotional journey, but it has worked out well,” said Martin, who is looking forward to a “quiet, boring Christmas!”.
He praises the care they received in King’s Hospital, Crumlin Childrens Hospital and the Regional. “The level of care we got was second to none.”
Since the operation, from going up and down to Crumlin and into the Regional on a regular basis, Isabel hasn’t had to stay overnight in hospital.
At their six month check-up in Crumlin they heard that there is a massive shortage of organs at the moment.
“Being a living donor is an option. You don’t have to be a close relative, you can be a match for anyone. Your liver gets bigger to create the same mass again,” said Martin, who urges people who don’t have an organ donor card to get one.
“It could be the gift of life,” said Martin, who wished to thank parent group Children’s Liver Disease Ireland, family and friends for all their support during 2012.