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Family Health: Water hero; LEUKAEMIA VICTIM SWIMS FOR GOLD.

TURLOUGH O'Hagan is a first-class swimmer brimming with strength and stamina.

He can plough through 400 metres of water at amazing speed and trains at his local baths four times a week.

Yet five years ago Turlough was desperately ill with leukaemia.

He owes his life and health to a bone marrow transplant. And now he is hoping to win medals at the World Transplant Games in Budapest, Hungary, next month.

"Swimming has helped me recover from the transplant both mentally and physically," says Turlough, 43, from Lurgan, Northern Ireland.

Races

"I compete in competitions for the over-25s, but the good thing about the Transplant Games is that we are all competing on a level basis.

"We have all been very ill and through a lot of treatment to get where we are today."

Turlough began competitive swimming as a youngster and swam for Ireland in international races in Australia, America and England.

He was extremely fit and had never suffered a day's illness in his life until he was struck down with chronic myeloid leukaemia at the age of 38.

He was training as a teacher after being made redundant from his job as a quantity surveyor, had two young children - Kate, now 10, and Harry, now nine - and his wife Mig was pregnant.

He says: "I had no symptoms except for feeling tired. But I just put that down to studying, training three times a week and having young children. I had always been fit."

But during a hospital check-up for a urinary tract infection, a blood test revealed a dangerously-high white cell count.

He was immediately admitted and put on a course of chemotherapy tablets.

But although the drugs could stabilise his type of leukaemia, his only hope of a cure was a bone marrow transplant.

His two brothers and sister were all tested to see if they were suitable to donate their bone marrow - and luckily his sister was a perfect match.

Three weeks after the birth of his younger son Charlie, now four, Turlough was given his life-saving transplant.

It involved extra-strong doses of chemotherapy to kill off the cancer cells in his blood which made him feel weak and sick and lose his hair.

He spent three weeks in isolation because he had no resistance to infection and the slightest bug could have killed him. But he pulled through.

Awful

"It was an awful time in our lives and I have to admit I didn't cope too well," he says.

"The whole thing frightened the life out of me. I was given such big doses of chemotherapy and then had to be in isolation.

"Everything had been so fantastic before. We had everything going for us. I was really enjoying teacher training and was looking forward to a new career.

"We had two lovely children and a third on the way.

"Then I got this devastating diagnosis." But despite losing weight and feeling weak and tired, Turlough was determined to swim again.

Within a year of his transplant he was back in the pool. And he slowly regained his strength, stamina and speed.

"When I first went back in the pool my times were 25 per cent slower than my best," he says.

But I have pushed them down and am now only 20 seconds slower."

In Budapest Turlough will be competing against swimmers from all over the world in five freestyle, medley and butterfly races.

All competitors at these games - adults and children - owe their lives to transplants. Many have been given new hearts, kidneys and livers.

As well as swimming, sports represented include athletics, tennis, table tennis, badminton, squash, cycling, bowls and golf.

The aim of the games is to highlight the benefits of transplantation and raise awareness of the need for donors.

The number of organ donors in the UK and Ireland fell by seven per cent last year, but waiting lists continue to grow

There were just 847 donors, providing 2,965 organs for transplant.

Thousands of other healthy organs which could have been used for transplant went to waste - and hundreds of people died waiting for them.

There are currently 6,539 people waiting for transplants, yet only around 2,500 are carried out each year and the number is falling.

Cash

Tragically, many leukaemia victims have no relatives suitable to give them bone marrow and depend on unrelated donors.

But, as with solid organs, there is a dramatic shortage of donors and the cash needed to test them.

Turlough says: "I was lucky. My sister was a perfect match.

"But, sadly, many other people have to depend on others they do not know to give them that invaluable gift of life."

DONOR card registration line: 0845 606 0400. Anthony Nolan Bone Marrow Trust donor line: 0990 111 533.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 27, 1999
Words:800
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