At 31, journalist Orla Tinsley looks like the picture of health, and no more than a student in her late teens. Incredible when you consider her medical history: she has lived with and battled Cystic Fibrosis (CF) all her life. In December last, only days before Christmas, she finally underwent a double lung transplant in New York after six previous donors failed to be a suitable match.
Imagine the horrendous fear and pressure of those weeks leading up to the surgery. On life support, every possible notification of a donor brought hope and expectation to the Newbridge woman and her family. And sadness knowing somewhere else a family was grieving.
Disappointment after disappointment might have psychologically battered a lesser spirit but even as her health deteriorated and time was running out, Orla Tinsley had only one mantra: “Failure is not an option”.
And then finally, a donor match. A double lung transplant and then the arduous weeks of waiting and watching, fearful of an organ rejection, hopeful for a full recovery.
Recover she did, and even in her weakest moments, she drummed home the message: “Please cover a donor card”. After a New Year’s tweet acknowledging her donor and the need for organ donation, the number of organ donor card pledges increased drmatically here in Ireland and a gofundme campaign reached almost €100,000 towards the cost of Orla’s medical and rehabilitation fees.
In an Instagram post, she wrote: "Every day feels like such a miracle. I have so much more energy than before and my motto will help conquer this journey: ‘Be the tortoise, not the hare’- what a beautiful way to start the new year! I am so grateful for my donor. I am so grateful to their family. I can’t wait until a few weeks from now when I’m running and swimming!"
She stated her New Year’s resolution would be to honour her donor every day “through exercise, hard work and gratitude.”
And she has certainly honoured that pledge. Next Monday, Orla Tinsley – Warrior will broadcast on RTÉ One, at 9.35pm, a daily feed of the physicially arduous and emotional journey Orla made through her rehabilitation programme and route to recovery.
An incredible story of pure determination, of the improvements in transplant surgeries, and of the need to carry an organ donor card.
I first met Orla Tinsley in 2008, when she was nominated for Kildare REHAB Person of the Year Award. Nominations were strong that year, with Berna Hayden and Tiglin two of the front runners amongst the nominees.
But this little slip of a girl bowled the committee and the judges with her clear talking and thinking. Already she had leapt onto the national media forum with her engaging coverage of the ludicrous practises in Irish hospitals where CF patients often found themselves in public wards…
A lethal combination for a person with CF – when an infection could threaten their already weakened immune system and even cause death, CF patients were placed in imminent danger.
Orla Tinsley challenged the establishment over and over, berating the Department of Health’s repeated choice to ignore the advice of a leading microbiologist citing the futility of having CF patients using public toilets in Irish hospitals, left waiting in A&Es on trolleys, sharing the air space with other ill patients and visitors carrying dangerous infections……
She was even known to get out and down a fire escape when she heard of a ‘hush-hush’ visit of former Minister for Health, Mary Harney, TD!
The girl had courage, the girl had foresight and optimism in buckets.
Six rejections, the seventh a match. Now she enjoys the freedom of energy and vitality, she can walk that incline to her apartment without fear. Life is good for Warrior Orla Tinsley.
Orla will be interviewed on RTÉ One radio next Monday morning by Ryan Tubridy prior to the documentary airing on RTÉ One later that night, at 9.35pm.
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