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Life-saving heart op leads Alan on drive for more organ donors

OUTDOOR sports fan Alan Judge would have died had it not been not been for an organ donation from the US.

The top kayaker and mountaineer had the same heart condition as tragic Tyrone footballer Cormac McAnallen, who died suddenly in 2004 when he was just 24.

Alan (28) believes if he had not been diagnosed and given a human aortic valve eight years ago, he would have suffered the same fate.

"That valve, called an Dacron Tube aorta, had to be sourced from America to save my life as there were not enough suitable donors in Ireland at the time," said Alan, a native of Allan, Co Kildare, who is president of the Students Union at GMIT, Castlebar, Co Mayo.

Born prematurely, he was diagnosed with the aortic valve problem and studied his options before undergoing life-saving surgery in the Mater Private Hospital in 2002.

Alan contacted the Herald after reading an article on national statistics in the newspaper while researching organ donation.

Some 261 life-changing organ transplants took place in Irish hospitals last year, but the demand for organs still greatly outnumbers suitable donors available. More than 600 people are on the various organ transplant waiting lists today, statistics show.

Now Alan wants the 250,000-strong Union of Students in Ireland to adopt organ donation as its national charity when its National Council meets in Waterford this weekend. "I want to raise the awareness of organ donation. It's a vitally important issue for many people," he said.

While some student unions, including his own, last year mandated fundraising only for local charities, he feels organ donation has a national appeal.

He has vowed to visit every campus and speak about his personal story as part of a national campaign.

"We won't be asking people to give us your money, only your organs," he joked.

When he was younger, he was told he would "probably grow out of" his heart problem, but because the valve was not working properly it was filling with blood and could have ruptured if pressure was put on it through sports or other activities.

"I should have gone through this valve already but they've given me another five years," he added.

"I don't smoke, I don't drink, I eat healthily. I live the lifestyle. I go kayaking, surfing and mountaineering," says Alan, who chose Castlebar because of its outdoor education programme.