Let’s walk for our donors…

Our second guest this week is Seána Maguire, Head of Spanish in Aquinas Diocesan Grammar School, Belfast… and more, as you will read…

Organ donation is a topic that has enriched my classroom practice as a teacher. It has really shone a light on the very important role that teachers play in the education of our young people on such a vital issue, providing them with accurate information and the opportunity to make their own informed decisions. I would even go so far as to say that I am a better teacher since I started learning about it.

I was first introduced to this by Lucie Dumont and the Chain of Life team in Quebec.  I will be forever grateful for the period of time that I had as a volunteer with them and how much this taught me.

On 30th June 2023 I was awarded the Sunday Life Spirit of NI Award for Education at the Culloden Hotel. This was a culmination of years of work and collaboration.

Seána Maguire and her mum receiving Sunday Life Spirit of NI Award for Education 30.6.23

Seána Maguire, with her mum, receiving the Sunday Life Spirit of NI Award for Education 

It was a privilege to be nominated for this award by the Northern Ireland Organ Donation Team. The specialist nurses have been giving their time since 2017 to come in to speak to our Year 13 and 14 pupils as part of their Key Stage 5 Enrichment module in Organ Donation. Pupils would listen intently to them as they explained their role and how they provide support to the families of patients who come to an intensive care setting, often following a sudden traumatic event. Pupils get the chance to ask questions and learn about this in the relaxed classroom environment.

Seána maguire teaching Organ Donation

Our module has also received the support of the Belfast renal transplant team and pupils have enjoyed lectures on kidney surgery from Mr Tim Brown, Belfast City Hospital. Indeed, one of the first pupils on our first pilot scrubbed in with me to observe a living donor kidney removal by keyhole surgery and then the transplantation of the kidney in the operating theatre, led by Mr Brown. To see a kidney pink up after it has been transplanted into the recipient and begin to function as soon as that clamp comes off, is a sight that I will never forget, nor ever be complacent about.

Indeed, even a pandemic did not stop this formidable team from carrying out their work here in Belfast, showing innovation and creativity and approaching all new challenges with curious minds and a sole purpose to serve their patients as best they can. During remote learning, Dr Mairead Convery, Paediatric Nephrologist Consultant, gave a live lecture to our pupils via Microsoft Teams, and such was the interest, we had 60+ pupils online. This is a testament to the work of our medical experts and also to our young people.

Throughout this journey, it has been a privilege to work with and learn from many people who are all part of the organ donation family here. The Oisín McGrath Foundation has provided our pupils with opportunities to take part in the annual Gaelic games events, and indeed it was extra special for the Year 8 Gaelic team to win the Oisín McGrath Shield back in 2017. We have also worked with Transplant Sport NI and through Orla Smyth our pupils learnt all about the transplant games and how it is the recipients’ wish to honour their donor.  Taking part in the World Transplant Games is a testimony of this.

Orla Tinsley’s wonderful RTE documentary, Warrior, which tracks her in New York whilst on the waiting list for a double lung transplant with cystic fibrosis is another example of the strength and resilience shown when faced with such an adversary. Two weeks ago (& Sept 2023) she was awarded an honorary doctorate for her work by UCD.

On the Waiting List is a BBC documentary which should also be seen by all pupils across the country. Stephen Watson shows the reality of being on the waiting list, on dialysis and how getting that call transforms lives. It also shines a light on the world class renal expertise that we have here in Northern Ireland.

It is important to take a moment to also reflect on the fact that here I am, writing for the Live Loudly Donate Proudly blog. I was blessed to have the chance to meet Lucia Quinney Mee and got to spend an afternoon with her, and her mum Rachel. I knew back then that Lucia had an indomitable spirit and drive and as a young person, she was determined to bring organ donation into the NI curriculum. Our pupils watch clips of Lucia in which her strength, determination and resilience shine through as she speaks with passion about organ donation education.

As a teacher, it is a privilege to be able to carry on that work and to work alongside other teachers, donor families, recipients and families on the waiting list, from all education sectors in Northern Ireland, in the education working group, Public Health Agency. After working together online for a couple of years, we all had the chance to finally meet on 1st June this year at the launch of Daíthi’s law in Stormont and send love and wishes for the little pocket rocket that is Daíthí on his journey to hopefully getting that call one day for a much needed heart. (Weblink: Donate4Daithi)

A word of thanks to the wonderful team of colleagues in Aquinas Grammar School who have worked with me along the way, piloted lessons after school and in the curriculum, and always supported this with open hearts and enthusiasm. Our staff, pupils and families and wider-community have embraced this topic and have their own stories to tell. ‘WomenEd NI’ have also quietly encouraged along the way behind the scenes, with their motto of Being 10% braver.

Hopefully soon, teachers across NI will be facilitating conversations in classrooms about this important topic and young people will be leading the way in important matters of informed choice and consent. As the Irish proverb goes, Mol an óige, agus tiocfaidh sí (Praise the youth and they will flourish).

This week marks Organ Donation Week 2023 and our school community is getting active walking, running, swimming and cycling to honour the organ donors, the recipients and those who are on the waiting list. Perhaps you too might have time this week to walk a few miles and to contribute to the UK wide Race for Recipients?

Link: Race for Recipients