"Try to be in London by 11 o’clock," the voice on the other side of the phone said.
It was November 1998 and Dermot Fenton’s bleeper had gone off.
It was a device that the Corkman kept close to him at all times because any minute it could bring him news that would change his life.
Born in 1974, Dermot had what his brother Pio describes as a “difficult childhood”; he was born with cystic fibrosis at a time when treatment for the disease was much less advanced and he spent much of his time in and out of hospital.
“He persevered and despite challenges got on with it,” Pio recalled to The Hard Shoulder.
“We grew up on a farm, he tended to engage with it in the same way as the rest of his brothers and sisters.”
However, by the age of 23 his quality of life had deteriorated and he was placed on oxygen.
The advice from doctors was clear - Dermot needed a lung and heart transplant.
But at that time in Ireland, the health service did not have the capacity for such an operation and Dermot was placed on a waiting list in London.
“In November 1998, the bleeper went off and he got a call saying, ‘Try to be in London by 11 o’clock,’” Pio said.
“This was 7.30 in the evening and getting from our house - which was in the countryside - even to Cork city was a bit of a struggle at times.”
The family frantically called all the airlines and got through to answer machine after answer machine.
But there was one plane flying out of Ireland that night that they did get through to - the Government jet.
The jet was due to head to Brussels and the minister onboard was quite happy to make a small diversion to London with Dermot onboard.
“He went into the operation around midnight, he was out by 8.30 the next morning,” Pio said.
Dermot underwent what it called a ‘domino transplant’, where organs are transferred between multiple patients.
“Some poor chap who had died - whose heart and lungs were going to be transplanted into my brother,” Pio explained.
“Because at that stage my brother’s heart was reasonably fine, it was transplanted from him into someone else.
“So, all of this was happening in the one operating theatre.”
Pio describes the surgery as “unusual” but it was performed under the supervision of a world leading surgeon.
“He came out of it very well and recovered very quickly, had that pink glow to his skin very quickly and there was a whole fuss around it,” he said.
One his first requests after his operation was a pint of Guinness and he was soon down into the hospital gym to work on his recovery.
He then got chatting to another transplant patient who, as it turned out, had just received his heart.
“Thankfully, she’s still alive, 24 years later - so it’s quite fascinating,” Pio said.
“It’s a comfort to us at this stage to know that some aspect of him is still walking the earth at this point.”
Dermot passed away in 2015 at the age of 41 and now Pio is telling the story of his remarkable life and in a documentary on Newstalk called A Man From Cork.
“It’s always great to talk about my brother because he was full of life and getting to do so is always enjoyable.”
A Man From Cork will premiere on Newstalk on Sunday November 27th at 7am, repeated Saturday December 3rd at 9pm and will be available as a podcast on GoLoud and all major podcast platforms.
Main image: Pio and Dermot.