“The night I went for the transplant, there were tears in everyone’s eyes up there. It wasn’t just me and my family, you know, they were all like that… all of the staff.”

Shane O’Connell was aware of his cardiomyopathy since he was just 11 years old. He knew about his family history of the condition, but it didn’t stop him growing up like any teenager should.

Life was normal for Shane, “100% perfectly fine”, as he puts it. He just got on with going to school, graduating, keeping up with everyone else, working full time, and socialising.

But into his 20s, things started to change. Shane’s doctor was surprised that he wasn’t feeling the effects of the cardiomyopathy, a disease that causes the enlargement of the heart muscle, meaning it becomes weaker and is unable to pump blood through the body as it should.

“Honestly, it was over the course of a year, a year I didn’t imagine happening. I went from A to Z in my health, really. I had a defibrillator fitted up in Dublin at the Mater, but still went ahead with life. I got married in 2007 and right after that I got my first hit. I fell down at a friend’s house and blacked out. But the defib shocked me back.”

Only for the defibrillator, Shane might have faced a much more serious outcome. “I thought that was lights out,” he says.

Shane with his three children

About two years later, Shane had another episode while at work. He received nine shocks from the defibrillator and learned his condition was worsening.

“When I got up that morning I knew something wasn’t right. I was extra tired but I just told myself to get on with it.”

Although conscious for the shocks, they marked a turning point for Shane. He was told by his doctor in the Mater Hospital that he needed to go on the heart transplant list as his heart was rapidly failing.

“I was weaker, I knew I was weaker, I felt weaker. It was an awful deterioration. But I always knew it was coming along the line, the transplant, but I said I’d wait until I was on my knees. Dr Mahon said I couldn’t do that. I needed to be in good enough health for it. So on 15th February 2012 I went on the list.”

For Shane, his wife Tricia, and three children, it would be a long wait. He was admitted to hospital in December 2012, and it was 11 months before the call came. During that time, Shane was on infusions 24/7, a treatment that regulates the pressure between the heart and lungs.

“The night I went for the transplant, there were tears in everyone’s eyes up there. It wasn’t just me and my family, you know, they were all like that… all of the staff.”

Shane’s transplant proved successful and he faced into a long period of recovery, one he didn’t quite expect. “You don’t think about the period after. You think you’ll be up and flying, but it doesn’t work like that. I couldn’t thank the Mater staff enough. I wouldn’t even call them nurses or doctors. I was on first name terms with them all. They were like family.”

Shane out cycling in Kerry

Fast-forward almost 4 years and Shane is most certainly flying. His health is his wealth and he treats every day as an opportunity to keep getting better. In July 2017, he completed the 180 km Ring of Kerry cycle event, something that seemed almost impossible just a few short years ago.

“I like hillwalking, a bit of mountain climbing, things out and about in nature. I’m back working and you’ll find me in the gym three mornings every week before work. I mean I have health, and health to spare. I’m 37 now and enjoy the simple things. I wouldn’t trade it for gold, none of it.

The Mater Hospital is home to the National Heart and Lung Transplantation Unit, and carries out around 50 heart and lung transplants each year. The Mater Foundation supports the unit by funding state-of-the-art equipment, upgrading patient facilities, and improving patient comfort.

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