A Portadown man has made the ultimate gift, by donating one of his kidneys to a friend.
Mark Boyce, who plays for Bourneview FC, is already making a speedy recovery after the operation just over a fortnight ago.
One of his kidneys was transplanted into his friend of 12 years, Donaghcloney man Justin Weir, who suffers from the hereditary polycystic kidney disease.
Justin had been waiting for a suitable kidney since May 2011, when both of his organs had to be removed, and was relying on dialysis to stay alive.
Mark (30), who is married to Judith and has two children, said, “I could see Justin’s health deteriorating. Going out and doing normal things was becoming impossible for him and he was really starting to miss out on his kids growing up.
“I knew his wife Sharon had been tested to become a living donor and she was a match, but not a great one, so I started making a few enquiries of my own.”
Unusually for a non-relative, Mark’s kidney tissue was found to be a very good match for Justin’s.
Said Mark, “I didn’t want to tell him until I knew for sure because I didn’t want to get his hopes built up.”
The first thing Justin knew of his friend’s secret tests came in an out-of-the-blue text. He said, “Mark was talking about the great view from the 11th floor. At first I thought he was away in an hotel somewhere.
“But the renal unit is on the 11th floor at the City Hospital and then I thought there might be something wrong with him so I phoned him. All I could do was say thank you.”
Justin had already endured false ‘dawns’ - he had been called for transplant three times but on each occasion his blood had proved incompatible.
And, on the day of the operations, Justin insisted on being wheeled down to the recovery ward and making sure that Mark was OK before allowing the kidney to be transplanted.
Mark, who is a committed Christian and a member of St Francis Church of Ireland, Annaghmore, said that once he had made up his mind to donate his kidney he had no second thoughts.
He said, “My wife and I prayed about it and we were both satisfied I was doing the right thing. You can live a full, normal, healthy life with one kidney.
“I think family and friends were obviously concerned but life is full of ‘what ifs’. What if I died at 95 with two perfectly healthy kidneys and hadn’t done anything to help?
“This will hopefully be the start of a new life for Justin.”
Justin has had a few minor setbacks since the operation but is now at home and taking his recovery one step at a time. On Monday, his brother was also undergoing a transplant, with a kidney donated by his wife.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s first Organ Donation Family Discussion Day took place yesterday (Thursday), encouraging families to sit down with their loved ones and discuss organ donation.
Even though someone is on the organ donor register, donation will only proceed if their family consents.
This is often where the system fails, as many families aren’t aware of their relatives’ wishes.