Cycling to highlight the gift of life a transplant can give

By Aideen O'Flaherty

A HEART-transplant recipient embarked on a 212km cycle from Lucan to Galway last week to raise awareness of the difference that organ donation can make, and to encourage people to make their wishes about organ donation known to their next of kin.

Ken Mulkerrins (39), from Lucan, was born with a congenital heart defect which then developed into cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle, in 2004, and, after several years of being on medication for cardiomyopathy, Ken was then diagnosed with end-stage heart failure in 2015.

Ken Mulherins 04

Ken at home with Kate and Conor Mulherrins

The father of two had always led an active lifestyle, and was a member of the Irish Kayak Freestyle Team, but in 2015 he noticed that his energy levels were rapidly decreasing, and he then received a diagnosis of end-stage heart failure.

Ken told The Echo: “When I was diagnosed with end-stage heart failure I knew the only course of action was a transplant.

“I was on the list for a transplant for four-and-a-half months, and then I received a transplant in March 2016.

“The most difficult things were that I only got to see my children for an hour a week [while I was in hospital], because they were in school and my wife was working.

“It’s different from an ordinary illness, with this there’s no treatment – you just have to play the waiting game.”

Slow process

Ken, who works as a product developer for Kilsaran, said that his recovery after receiving the heart transplant was “a slow process”, and that he underwent a new treatment where plasma, which contains antibodies, was taken from his blood and replaced with new plasma so his body wouldn’t reject his new heart.

Slowly Ken got back to full fitness, where he would challenge himself to walk a few steps, and then walk for two minutes, and so on until he was then able to begin running, and six months after he received his transplant he took part in a 5km run.

Now, Ken is hoping his 212km cycle, which ended at the Circle of Life Commemorative Garden in Galway, will help people to see the positive impact that organ donation can have and will encourage people to make their next of kin aware of their wishes.

Ken said: “I’m firmly of the belief that someone had to die for me to give that heart, so I want to put it to good use – I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I keep fit.”

Ken undertook the solo cycle with the support of his wife, Pamela Dunne, and their two children Conor (9) and Kate (6).

Every day is a new day

Reflecting on how he now approaches every day since receiving his transplant, Ken said: “Every day is a new day and it has its own opportunities, we don’t sweat the small stuff anymore.

“[The transplant] saved my life, it saved my wife’s life, and it saved my kids’ lives because without the transplant they would’ve had to grow up without a father.”

Ken explained that there is a common misconception people have that by signing an organ donor card and keeping it on their person, or marking it on their driving licence, that this will automatically mean their organs will be donated. The final decision, however, is made by your next of kin.

“Organ donation can be time-sensitive, for a heart you have a four-hour window where the heart can be transplanted after someone has died.

“Have the chat with your family and let them know your wishes, you’re looking at one person being capable of saving eight lives [if they donate their organs].”

Ken’s cycle began in Lucan on Friday, August 17, at 8am, and he arrived in Galway on Saturday, August 18, at 3pm.

For more details, including Ken’s cycling route, follow Powered by the Gift of Life Cycle on Facebook.

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