By Lisa Smyth | Belfast Telegraph
Over 600 people — who have all been given a second chance at life through the amazing gift of organ donation — made their way through the streets of Belfast for the start of the Westfield Health British Transplant Games.
Joined by friends and family, they walked from Belfast City Hall to the Waterfront Hall for the official opening ceremony yesterday evening.
But perhaps the most poignant moment of the evening was the arrival of dozens of donor families — the very people who gave permission for their loved ones’ organs to be used to save others. As they made their way into the auditorium at the Waterfront, they were greeted by a standing ovation and loud cheers that only came to an end when the host for the evening, Stephen Watson, began speaking to pay tribute to them.
Stephen, who received a kidney from his father 21 years ago, said: “I am sure there will be many difficult times ahead but I hope you will have some experiences that show you what an important gift you have given.”
Unsurprisingly, some members of the audience were moved to tears by the emotion of the event.
One of the athletes from Northern Ireland who took part in and won a bronze medal in archery yesterday fought back tears as she spoke of her gratitude at being offered a second chance at life.
Johanne Tinsley (50), from Carrickfergus, who had a liver transplant 10 years ago, said: “Words can’t describe how I feel.
“I just owe my donor and their family such a debt of gratitude for their generous gift of life. I get emotional just talking about it.
“I know my donor was a young man who was killed in an accident. You’re encouraged to write to the donor family and I did, although I never heard anything back.
“When they told me I needed a transplant they said I needed it within six to 12
months, but then I deteriorated rapidly.”
She was rushed to King’s College Hospital in London.
Mrs Tinsley continued: “I was given 48 hours to live, the doctors actually told my husband to get my family to the hospital. My kidneys were failing, I was seriously ill but then a liver arrived.
“It was actually too big but they had to make do with what they had. I celebrate two birthdays in November, my actual birthday and my transplant birthday, because it was the start of my new life.
“The Games just highlight the need for organs. If people would just open their eyes and realise what a fantastic gift it is, and it is a gift.”
Many of the performers who took to the stage to entertain the athletes, their families and the donor families have also been touched by organ donation.
Daniel O’Rourke (19) performed a song he wrote about his own experience as someone whose life was saved by receiving a kidney when he was just three years old.
“I have been very lucky. I have had a healthy life and I would say I have lived it to the maximum.
“My band and I have made a CD which we are selling and hope to raise £2,000 for Transplant Sport UK. I don’t remember much about when I was sick. I know I was on dialysis for a year-and-a-half and this is my way of giving something back.”
To purchase the CD and help raise vital funds for Transplant Sport UK — the organisation that runs the Games — contact email@example.com