Northern Ireland news

West Belfast Transplant Games hero Joe Raffo dies aged 75

West Belfast man Joseph Raffo, who competed in the Transplant Games for more than 30 years, has died at the age of 75
Marie Louise McConville

A WEST Belfast man, who competed in the Transplant Games for more than 30 years and was hailed as a "symbol of tremendous hope" to others, has died at the age of 75.

Joseph Raffo, who was originally from the Falls Road, passed away on Monday at his home in Dunmurry.

The father-of-three, whose family are known for their fish and chip business, had been on dialysis for a year when he received a kidney transplant on Easter Sunday in 1973.

Initially told the new kidney would last seven years, it went on to serve him more than 46 years.

Following the transplant, Mr Raffo became active and regularly ran the Belfast marathon, wearing a t-shirt bearing the message `I am running with my gift of life'. He also learned to swim.

In 1977 he competed in his first British Transplant Games in Portsmouth where he won a gold and silver medal.

Joseph Raffo pictured at the British Transplant Games in Liverpool in 1986

He carried on competing in the games and in 1995, was selected to represented Team GB at the World Transplant Games in Manchester were he won a gold, silver and bronze medal.

In 1998, when the British Transplant Games came to Belfast for the first time, Mr Raffo was the Team GB captain and again brought home a haul of medals.

Aside from sport, Mr Raffo and his wife Rosaleen opened a fish and chip shop at the top of the Whiterock Road, which continues to operate today.

In a statement, the Raffo family said last night that the 75-year-old had "defied all the odds" in health and fitness following his transplant.

Joseph Raffo pictured at the 1997 World Transplant Games in Sydney

"He took the bull by the horns," they said.

"He got a new chance at life. He was determined to use it and wanted to show other people there is life after a transplant.

"He was part of the NI Kidney Research Fund. He raised a lot of money for it and raised a lot of awareness for it.

"He had three wee babies and a new wife and he wouldn't have had any of that, he certainly wouldn't have seen his children grow up and his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

"He was extremely kind. He adored his grandchildren because he taught each one of them how to swim and it stands by them now because he said it was a life skill."

The statement added: "We know he is extremely happy because we know he is back with Rosie. They were definitely a love affair."

Requiem Mass for Mr Raffo will take place tomorrow at 10am at St Anne's Church in Dunmurry. Burial will take place afterwards in Milltown Cemetery.

**Further information about organ donation is available at www.organdonationni.info

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