Aine Cornally and Sheila Hanevy with Ryan Tubridy.

Remarkable transplant story of lifelong local friends told on Late Late Show

Born four minutes apart in the Athlone hospital, an enduring friendship spanning five decades has been copper fastened as one came to the rescue of her ailing friend and a stranger by donating a kidney in March 2019. This involved donor kidneys criss crossing between London, Coventry and Scotland.

Ballymore natives Sheila Hanevy (who lives in Maynooth) and Aine Cornally (who has made her family home in Rathmines, Dublin) were active audience participants on the RTE Late Late Show last night when they shared their story of triumph over adversity with Ryan Tubridy and the nation. They were sharing their story to highlight this week's Organ Donor Awareness Week which is organised by the Irish Kidney Association and to give hope to people in organ failure who are languishing on waiting lists for a transplant.

Sheila had been undergoing dialysis treatment for 19 years when eventually the hope of a lifeline, which Aine's husband Brian Wickham had discovered many years before, came through. This followed a transplant which Sheila had received as a teenager and which failed 15 years later.

Westmeath natives and friends for life Sheila Hanevy and Aine Cornally born four minutes apart in the same maternity hospital and grew up together, were interviewed on the RTE Late Late Show sharing their amazing organ donation story of triumph over adversity with Ryan Tubridy and the nation. For more information visit Photo by Conor McCabe Photography

Like some members of Sheila’s family neither Aine or Brian were suitable kidney donors for Sheila. Undeterred, Brian was inspired by a programme he saw on a UK TV channel about a paired exchange kidney swap. The programme showed how a willing donor and patient are entered into a programme to do a kidney swap in a chain of other people in the same situation.

Sheila enquired about the paired exchange kidney programme with Consultant Colm Magee at Beaumont Hospital who has been looking after her kidney care since she was a teen. He advised that Beaumont was in negotiations with Coventry about Irish patients entering the paired exchange programme. Sheila was one of the first Irish patients to go into that programme in 2011. Brian and Sheila made a trip to Coventry and underwent tests after which it was confirmed they could be accepted onto the paired exchange programme. But the road to Sheila’s second transplant took 19 years, with Aine also going into the programme in the hope that she could be a donor. There was one failed attempt which was called off at the eleventh hour in January 2019. The chain was broken as Sheila got an infection.

The duo spent part of national school and all of secondary school together before sharing a flat in Dublin when they came to work there where they eventually settled. Aine and Brian Wickham settled down in Rathmines and had three children, two girls, ages 17 and 24 and a boy aged 21. Sheila lives in Maynooth. Sheila's partner Pat Dunne and Aine's husband Brian accompanied them to the Late Late Show.

In March 2019 Aine donated a kidney to a stranger so that Sheila, who had been on dialysis for 19 years, could also receive a kidney in return.

Sheila started dialysis treatment in 1983 when she was just 15 years old. She described her health journey "I was on the transplant list for 7 years and received a transplant that lasted for 15 years and I am very grateful to the family of the kidney donor who gave me this transformational new lease of life. I went back on dialysis and I was on the transplant list for 19 years. I was one of the first patients to go into the paired exchange programme in 2011 in Coventry and I received a transplant in March 2019. My best friend from birth Aine donated a kidney to a stranger in London to enable me to get a successful kidney from an altruistic female donor from Scotland. Aine and I were born in the same hospital on the same day in 1968. She is 4 minutes older than me. We have grown up together and are still best friends to this day. She is like my sister and a very special person to give such a generous gift of life.”

Aine, who works in Markets and Treasury at Bank of Ireland, said, “Sheila and myself are like sisters, she has a key to our house and our children grew up with her being around. We all watched her health deteriorate over the years but she is a formidable and determined lady and very seldom let her kidney failure get to her. Despite her failing kidneys she worked all the way through in Finance and never let any of her colleagues know when she was clocking off at 5pm that she was heading into hospital for dialysis treatment. We could all see her deteriorate over the years and it was heart-breaking to watch as when we used to go for walks she would have to link into my arm for support. She never travelled light and when she came to stay in our house, my kids would help her with her bags as she didn’t have the strength to carry them into the house. But she was always good fun and never dwelled on her plight. It is such an honour to be able to donate a kidney so she could get one in return and I hope the kidney recipient of the one I donated is still doing well".

The key message during Organ Donor Awareness Week (23-30 April), which is organised by the Irish Kidney Association in association with Organ Donation Transplant Ireland, is to Share Your Wishes.

Individuals who wish to support organ donation are encouraged to Share their Wishes and keep the reminders of their decision available by carrying the organ donor card, permitting Code 115 to be included on their driver’s licence or having the ‘digital organ donor card’ App on their smartphone. Organ Donor Cards can be requested by visiting the IKA website or to your phone, phoning the Irish Kidney Association on 01 6205306 or Free text the word DONOR to 50050

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