By Robert Cox | April 30th 2020
“I couldn’t believe when the voice at the other end of the phone told me they had a kidney for me. I went around the house screaming at one in the morning. I was terrified”
These are unprecedented times we live in. We have now spent a number of weeks in lockdown due to the CoronaVirus pandemic that has swept throughout the world.
Many of us are busy making plans for what we will do when things return to some kind of normality, some of us are taking time out to reflect on things in our life to date, while others are keeping busy with activities such as running and gym work; Kilcock teenager Paul Byrne is one such person, except in his case he is doing all of the aforementioned above.
However Paul’s case is slightly different from the vast majority of us, lockdown hasn’t brought about that much change in his life, well certainly his life since November 2019, when the former Kilcock Celtic underage goalkeeper underwent a major Kidney Transplant Operation, that has since had him in isolation and lockdown long before it became fashionable!
There is no doubting that any operation can be life changing and in Paul’s case the change has certainly been for the better. Those closest to him will not have been one bit surprised to see Paul back doing what he loves, his gym work, as early as January. And it would have come as no surprise to them either that he now looks to the future with great optimism, even in these difficult times.
Paul (19) from Royal Meadows Kilcock, is the 3rd son of four children, with Danny and Alan ahead of him in terms of age and his younger sister Cara making up the quartet for parents John and Noeleen.
Paul’s earliest memories of his kidney problems came from his regular trips to Temple Street Hospital for check ups after his mam Noeleen found out from the early stages of his life that he would eventually one day require a transplant; “My mam found out when I was quite young that one of my kidneys was in bad state. I was on medication from an early age and I had to attend hospital on numerous occasions as far back as I can remember to check had the Kidney function dropped. Usually every time it did, I would encounter some problems health wise. We were told that if it ever dropped below 20% I would have to begin the process of preparing for a transplant but we didn’t know when that was going to happen.
I was in Temple Street up until the age of sixteen before having to move and attend Beaumont Hospital. I have nothing but praise for both hospitals, who treated me very well”
Despite these complications as a youngster, Paul was always very upbeat and never let his condition get in the way of doing what he loved most, playing sport; “In terms of sport, it never affected me. I was always an active kid. I played Hurling and Gaelic Football up until the age of 7 or 8 before I concentrated solely on playing in goals for Kilcock Celtic, where I went on to win plenty of finals and cups before stopping a couple of years ago over fears of getting a bad hit on my kidney. I enjoyed every minute of my journey through sport at underage”
After hanging up the goalie gloves, Paul didn’t rest on his laurels and quickly found a new love, joining his local gym in January 2019, to work on his strength and conditioning; “I joined the gym here in Kilcock in January 2019 and took to it like a duck to water. It was the best decision I’ve ever made. I was getting help how to build my muscle mass. After the first few days, I found I was flying at it and was really beginning to see results as the months passed. As well as the physical aspect of the working out, I felt it was having a great impact on me mentally and I was feeling as well as I had in a long time”
However, in June 2019 Paul was put on Dialyisis and so began his journey towards having the transplant; “I was brought in and hooked up to a big machine. It was a one day procedure and I had a little tube inserted into me to allow fluid to be taken out and put in. After this procedure I was upset that I couldn’t go to the gym for a while. I couldn’t do my compound lifts, squats, bench or deadlifts for fear that I would tear the wound open. I always had plasters on to protect the wound so it became a bit of a challenge when wasing for example because I couldn’t get soap or shampoo near the wound, so it was always a long process in getting ready for the shower”
Been unable to do certain lifts wasn’t to deter Paul from continuing his workouts though, so given his determination, he found alternatives; “I found loads of new exercises and began to work on areas like my lower back and glutes and this helped me a good bit. I was at this routine for about three months and then I got a call to say I had been put on the waiting list for my transplant”
At this stage it was late September or early October 19 and as it turned out Paul wouldn’t be on the waiting list for too long; “I think I was only on the waiting list for about four weeks from the time I was told I was on it. Which is amazing, some people can be on it for years. I was thrilled, I couldn’t believe it. I genuinely felt I’d be on the list for years to come. From the moment I went on the waiting list it all became a bit real and it was pretty scary knowing that I could get the call any day but I tried to get on with my life as normal but it was always in the back of my mind”
As it turns out the the former Scoil Dara student didn’t have to wait too long for that call to say that the hospital had found a match; “I went in for my transplant on November 5th 2019 and it was the scariest thing I’ve ever been through. The call literally happened out of nowhere. I couldn’t believe when the voice at the other end of the phone told me they had a kidney for me. I went around the house screaming at one in the morning. I was terrified. We had to kick into gear and rush to the hospital.
When we got to the hospital I had to undergo all blood tests etc and I was once again terrified for my life. I felt all along that I would be ready when the day came but nothing prepares you. The rest of that day is a bit of a blur between one thing or another but I certainly remember waking up from the operation. I was sore everywhere”
Paul spent a week in hospital after the operation and recalls the pain he felt in the first few days; “As I said already, I was sore everywhere. I had a couple of large incisions and I just kept looking at them, I found it hard to move and they hurt when I did. I was feeling a bit sorry for myself but after a few days I just began to feel extremely grateful and to this day I know how lucky I am. I know some people who are still on dialysis after like ten years so for me to get it done so quickly, I will be forever grateful”
Given that the gym had become such a big part of his life in the year up to the operation, Paul became a bit dispondent when he was told he would have to stay away from the gym for at least three months; “Yeah I was a bit upset alright that I couldn’t go back to the gym for at least three months, which upon reflection is probably a bit silly of me given the scale of the operation but that’s the way I felt at the time.
I have to be honest though, I did make a return to the gym after only a month. In my mind I felt I was fully healed and thank God I never suffered any setbacks. It was mid December when I went back and to be honest it was a nice early Christmas present to myself!
Everything about the gym helped me recovery so quickly. Just been there helped me. I wasn’t doing much but what I was doing was helping me ten fold”
After all he’s been through Paul now feels he has come out the other side with more motivation than he ever had. He knows how lucky he is and is grateful for that. Now when he goes to the gym he has something to push him on even more; “The gym makes me feel so good and when I’m working out I sometimes take a look down at my scars and it pushes me on to work harder. I think back to where I was and how scared I was for my life and as I said already I feel grateful. Obviously it’s early doors and I’m still a bit skinny and I am trying to build myself up some more. But it’s a challenge I relish.
There are some things I still can’t eat like grapefruits but that’s a small price to pay. Outside of the gym, I look at my scars every morning when I get out of bed and it just helps me to say Ohh I can do this or I can do that. I am so grateful.
At the moment obviously all the gyms are closed but I have continued my work outs at home and I am also taking time out to reflect on what has been a whirlwind twelve months or so.
Thankfully I am out the other side of it. And I look to the future with a lot of hope. Going forward I want to put all my experiences in and out of the gym to good use and help other people to achieve their goals. I’ll be ready to get going when this current CoronaVirus pandemic passes.
I am so grateful to the family of the person who sadly lost their life a week before my transplant. I didn’t know the person who donated but I wrote a letter to their family thanking them. I will never forget them”