Denise and husband Emmet on their wedding day

‘They say life begins at 40 but for me, being catapulted into unexpected heart failure last year could have meant the end of my life.’ – Denise Geoghegan

By Carmel Hayes

A LAOIS woman who had a life-saving heart transplant seven months ago is urging people to support Organ Donor Awareness Week.

Portarlington mother-of-three Denise Geoghegan (40) spent many months in hospital, before receiving a donor heart last July.

Until January 2020, Denise was like any other working mother and wife and led a healthy lifestyle. When she became breathless while doing even the simplest tasks, she went to her GP and was rushed to Portlaoise hospital for an emergency cardiac check.

Within hours, she was transferred to Dublin and spent the next six months in the Mater Hospital, awaiting a heart transplant operation during a pandemic.

Now back home in the Cathair Na gCapall estate with her husband Emmet and sons Curtis, Correy and Caeden, Denise hopes people will support Organ Donor Awareness Week, so that others may also receive life-saving transplants.

The annual campaign organised by the Irish Kidney Association (IKA) is running all this week until Saturday 3 April, with the theme #Life is a Gift Pass it On and Share your Wishes.

People can help by carrying an organ donor card, permitting Code 115 to be included on their driver’s licence and having the ‘digital organ donor card’ APP on their smartphone. Organ Donor Cards are available from the IKA on 01 6205306 or Free text the word DONOR to 50050. More details are on the website.

Here is Denise’s incredible story:

They say life begins at 40 but for me, being catapulted into unexpected heart failure last year could have meant the end of my life. I am a wife and mother to three sons, Curtis (21), Corey (16) and Caeden (8). I work as an administrator for a courier company in my native town in Portarlington, Co Laois .

It was in January 2020,  I went to my GP as I had swollen legs and stomach and I was finding it very hard to breathe. He sent me to  A & E in Portlaoise Hospital. From there I was sent to St James’s in Dublin for an Angiogram and was then I told that I had severe heart failure,  cardiomyopathy and I would most likely need a heart transplant.

My world was turned upside down. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. I was never aware I had any heart issues, although it was in our family history. 

I was then transferred to the Mater Hospital where they confirmed that I would need a heart transplant and that I would have to undergo a series of necessary tests to identify my suitability to go on a waiting list for a heart transplant. It was somewhat ironic that it was on February 14th, Valentine’s Day that I was put on the transplant waiting list for a heart, and that very night I received my first call for a new heart.

It turned out to be a false call as I was not a suitable match for this heart.  I was not really too upset about this news, as it had all happened so quickly and I still needed time to get my head around all of this situation that I had suddenly found myself in and I still had to explain this difficult news to my sons.

 So then started my long wait in hospital. In total I was an inpatient in the Mater Hospital for eight long and difficult months. As my heart was only functioning at 10%, this is where I had to stay in the knowledge that the only way I could ever leave was if I got a donor heart.

I found this all so difficult and I missed my kids so much. But in the early stages they could visit me regularly. Then the restrictions around Covid hit and I was not allowed visits anymore, except for my husband Emmet. This is when my world started to fall apart and the only contact I had with the outside world was through Facetime. The hardest part was knowing that my kids needed me and there was nothing I could do about it.

It was a really tough time for my husband, as he visited me every single day and then went home to care for the boys, while trying to hide the huge stress he was under from all of us . The staff in the critical care unit  in the Mater Hospital were amazing. I really thought of them as my family. They went over and above to help me in any way they could and I will be forever grateful for the love and support they showed me despite that, at times, I was not the easiest of patients (which they had to put up with) while I was in that ward for half a year.

The hardest part for me was when the second call for a transplant came and then I got told that it wasn’t a match again. It was totally devastating for me and my family. All I wanted was to be home with my kids but it wasn’t to be this time. My mind went through a rollercoaster of emotions.

It was a case of third time lucky for me. Finally, when I got my next call,  I don’t know how but I knew that this time the donor heart was meant for me. When it was confirmed the transplant was going ahead this time, I was over the moon but scared also. Emmet was with me all that day and, until I was wheeled into the operating theatre. I could see by his face he was terrified for me. So was I but I focused on the prospect of me being able to be home again with my kids, family and friends and that took away the fear for me.

The operation took over six hours and I woke up about three hours after that, totally delighted with the new life a stranger had given to me. After four weeks, I finally went home to my husband and kids. If my brush with death has taught me anything, it is that life is for living and that is what I intend doing. Life begins at 40 and never more so than for me, as I’m 40 now with my new donor heart. I’m caring for my three sons and husband, walking every other day with my dog Max and enjoying the simple things in life and am grateful for every breath of fresh air I take.

Everybody needs to understand how important organ donation is and what better gift can you ever give anybody but the gift of life? To my organ donor family, I cannot thank you enough and will be forever grateful for the new life you have given to not just me but my family also.  

We would never have got through any of this without the help from my family and my in-laws. To my friends who witnessed my despair and saw me cry, you helped me more than you will ever know. The love and support shown to us from the people in the town I live in, from my two younger sons’ schools, St Patrick’s Boys National School and Colaiste Iosagáin, was really overwhelming and I will be eternally grateful to each and every one of you.

Lastly to everyone in the Mater Hospital, from kitchen staff to the nursing and medical staff to the transplant team and surgeons who performed my life saving operation, I thank you from the bottom of my donor’s heart.

Denise Geoghegan with her son Caeden (8) and pet Max

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