Grandmother travelled around the world to donate kidney to Layla

By Mary Dennehy

A TALLAGHT grandmother who travelled across the world to donate a kidney to her granddaughter participated in a virtual service of remembrance and thanksgiving filmed in Dublin to honour organ donors.

Pauline Callaghan participated in the Irish Kidney Association’s 35th Annual Service of Remembrance and Thanksgiving, which, a virtual event this year, was broadcast on RTE last Sunday.

IKA Layla Henderson 1

Layla Henderson

During the interdenominational service, Pauline was joined by granddaughter Layla (9), whom she donated a kidney to, and her twin sister Maddie Rose – who together carried forget-me-not-flowers to the altar.

Living in Old Bawn, Pauline donated a kidney to Layla when she was just three years old and residing in Australia with her mam Lorraine, dad Stewart and twin sister, Maddie Rose.

Pauline told The Echo that during one of her daughter Lorraine’s pregnancy scans, a problem with Layla’s kidneys was detected.

“I remember at the time, the doctors saying that Layla wouldn’t survive the pregnancy, she wouldn’t survive the birth, she wouldn’t survive the weekend…but she did”, Pauline said.

When it was recommended that Layla receive a kidney transplant, Pauline, who had been travelling back and forth to help care for her very ill granddaughter, was tested at home in Ireland.

IKA Pauline Callaghan and grandchild Layla Henderson 9 1

Pauline Callaghan and her granddaughter Layla Henderson

After the tests were complete, Pauline received the news she was waiting for – and in 2014 at the age of 59, Pauline donated a kidney to her three-year-old granddaughter in a Melbourne hospital.

“I was absolutely delighted when I heard I was a match…I was just so grateful that I could do it”, Pauline said.

“The payoff for me was to see Layla have a life.

“We used to wake up every morning to Layla getting sick because of the toxins in her system.

“However, one morning [after the transplant], I woke up to hear Layla talking and singing to her dolly…that’s what it was all about.”

She added: “Layla’s flying now in school and is a little dancer and singer, she has a great beat.

“She’s a cheeky monkey and makes us laugh every day.”

Speaking with Pauline, the joy that organ donation has brought to her family, who have since moved home to Ireland, is palpable - and the gift of a twin sister it has given Maddie Rose.

“Maddie Rose now has a sister she can play and dance with”, Pauline said.

“When Layla was a toddler she couldn’t move but if there was a toy she wanted but couldn’t reach, Maddie Rose would creep over and get it for her.

“They’ve been through all of this together and have a very special bond.”

Pauline has encouraged people to have a conversation about organ donation with their loved one or family, and to carry an organ donor card.

Shortly after she got married, Pauline and her husband had a conversation about organ donation and for the past 40 years, Pauline has had an organ donor card in her purse.

“People need to have the conversation and normalise it”, Pauline said.

In relation to being a live donor, Pauline said: “When I discovered I was a match [for Layla], I remember thinking I had the solution before I had the problem.

“If you’re given the chance to help somebody, you should take it.

“It’s just such a joy to see the life in Layla now.”

This year’s service included a special message from President Michael D Higgins, Patron of the IKA, in which he paid homage to deceased and living organ donors, who have made possible “that most precious gift, of life and living”.

According to the Irish Kidney Association: “For many donor families this unique annual service has become an anniversary to remember their loved ones, and for transplant recipients, the opportunity to honour and give thanks to the wonderful ‘gift of life’ they have received.”

The inter-church service was filmed at Newman University Church, Dublin 2.

Organ donor cards are available by phoning the IKA on 01 6205306 or Free text the word DONOR to 50050.

Alternatively visit www.ika.ie to learn more.

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