“Thank you, Mam, for my kidney”

Photographed at Doneraile Estate are Neil Coleman and his kidney donor mother Marion from Charleville. Photo by Jimmy Coleman (Neil’s father and Marion’s husband).

A Charleville man who received a kidney transplant thanks to his donor mother had more reason than most to show his appreciation to her last Sunday, on Mother’s Day. Neil Coleman (30) said, “To attempt to express my gratitude through words would be a disservice to the immeasurable gift my mam has given. I’m alive today due to her selfless donation and words will always fall short of how that really makes me feel. While my gratitude is and always will be ever-present, I’ll still take every opportunity I have to express it that much more to her.”
Marion, a native of Churchtown in Dublin, is a grandmother of two, and was 62 years old when she donated one of her kidneys to Neil, her youngest of three sons, on 13th September 2021.
Neil’s shock diagnosis of kidney failure came in 2018, when he was 25. He had been struggling for years with tiredness and lack of concentration. He said, “While a group of family members and friends stepped forward wanting to donate a kidney to me, my Mam was first in line”.
The operation took place at Beaumont Hospital and Neil had to stay in isolation for three months afterwards as the global pandemic prevailed. Two days after the operation, Neil and Marion, who were in separate rooms in a ward for isolating patients, reunited with a warm embrace. Neil said, “It’s not so much the embrace that has stuck with me but rather chatting to my mother while I was still bedridden and the immense feeling of relief that came with that experience – knowing that she was all right and everything went fine with both of our operations.”
He added, “Waking up for the first time after the operation was as though I had come out of a horrible nightmare and all of a sudden every last worry had melted away. My thoughts were clear and deliberate, I could feel an alertness I had never realised I was missing in the first place. I felt like I was me again. My father Jimmy and I had to remind Mam to take it easy for a while. Within two weeks of the operation, the two of us were home in Charleville, and Dad looked after us, as did Sherlyn, my sister-in-law, who had prepared meals for us for a few weeks. By week three, Mam felt she was back to normal and full of energy, caring for me to ensure I made a full recovery. I struggled to overcome persistent infections which lasted six months, but this minor physical setback did not take away from how much better I felt emotionally and physically.”
“So, last Sunday was not only a treat for my Mam, it has been the first Mother’s Day in quite a few years where I feel I am fully myself and not a grumpy son, and I have her to thank for that.”
It was in the hours following his brother’s wedding celebrations that Neil describes how he experienced “a very sobering moment” with the sudden onset of “massive black bags under his eyes”. Having had a kidney removed at the age of seven and some health issues related to food intolerance in his teens, he was immediately aware that the symptoms he was suddenly experiencing were pointing towards kidney issues. His self-diagnosis was confirmed after tests at Cork University Hospital.
Prior to the transplant operation, Marion was determined to lose weight and undertook a strict diet and exercise regime. In contrast, Neil struggled to gain weight as it had plummeted by 24kg to just 56kg by the time the transplant operation proceeded at Beaumont Hospital. However, thanks to his mother’s continued love and support, Neil developed a love of cooking as well as finding and making recipes that made what was “a cripplingly restrictive renal diet significantly more manageable”.
Neil describes how this effort was made all the easier through the support his mother and father had given every step of the way. Through Neil’s insistence the three of them joined a gym and made further refinements to their individual diets. On most days, however, Neil said that he could confidently rely on his mother to help in preparing special dietary restricted meals and nursing him back to health. Neil has now returned to a normal healthy weight of 70kg.
Neil described the contrast between how he was before and after the transplant, “I feel like a different person, I am no longer tired, suffering from exhaustion, and I can concentrate my mind. I am back studying Computer Science at UL and back training in the gym three to four times a week. Although my diet is complicated by the fact that I am allergic to both dairy and soy, my mother has been a powerhouse of support, creating dietary friendly meals for me and helping to regain my health. I am looking forward to travelling to France with my girlfriend soon, with her guiding me around Paris, her hometown. I am also planning a trip to Chicago to visit my oldest brother sometime within the next year.”
When asked about the deed of donating to her youngest son, a pragmatic Marion replied, “I don’t think I know anyone who wouldn’t do this for their child. Once I heard that Neil would need a transplant, there was no question, ever, that I would not be the one to put myself forward. I was delighted when it was confirmed that I was a kidney match. When I heard that the operation was a success, I was on a high and in a state of euphoria. The fact that Neil was doing well carried me through my recovery which couldn’t have gone any better. I was raring to go within a few weeks, although I did my best to behave and follow medical orders to take it easy for six weeks.”
Marion continued, “No one could have guessed how hard it would be emotionally on my husband Jimmy as he worried about both of us undergoing operations on the same day. He was not allowed to visit us due to visiting restrictions because of Covid, but he could call to the hospital to get regular updates on our progress. The Irish Kidney Association was very good to our family and provided hotel accommodation close to the hospital so Jimmy could be nearby and feel more connected to us.”
Marion and Neil are sharing their story to highlight the importance of organ donation for transplantation.
Individuals who wish to support organ donation are encouraged to Share their Wishes with their family and keep the reminders of their decision available by carrying the organ donor card, permitting Code 115 to be included on their driver’s licence or having the ‘digital organ donor card’ App on their smartphone. Organ Donor Cards can be requested by visiting www.ika.ie/get-a-donor-card or to your phone, phoning the Irish Kidney Association on 01 6205306 or Free text the word DONOR to 50050.
Organ Donor Awareness Week 2023 will take place from 20th-27th May.