A heightened awareness of coughs and sneezes, washing our hands at every opportunity, is still a new experience for most of us. Self isolation is still in a novelty stage. But for one Kilkenny woman these steps are nothing new and in the current coronavirus crisis she, and her family, have gone in to almost total isolation.
Deirdre Roche Doherty is an amazing woman. She was born with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that would later cause her older sister’s death as a teenager.
Deirdre was lucky. At the age of 19 she had a full heart and double lung transplant. It allowed her to finish college, have a career as a teacher, get married and have a family. At the time she was the only person in the world to achieve that medical milestone.
Deirdre has also had to have two liver transplants as the heavy medication that keeps her lungs and heart working eventually wears out the kidneys.
When she had her heart and double lung transplant the medical prognosis was that it would add two or three years to her life. That was in 1996. She had kidney transplants in 2009 and 2017.
s a CF sufferer, Deirdre explains she has always been conscious of people with colds and flus, and with being careful about hand washing and disinfecting at home. With the arrival of coronavirus it has made life very scary for her.
“My lung function is not great, it’s about 30%,” she said. “Any infection I get anyway is a big deal, I need antibiotics and have to go into the Mater Hospital for a few weeks. I am also immunosuppressed because of the transplants.”
Days before the rest of the country officially went into isolation Deirdre and her family took a step back from the outside world for the sake of her health.
Ruth, who is nine, and six year-old Abbie were taken out of school before they officially closed. Deirdre did this on the advice of her consultant.
“I was already isolating myself and he said I can’t be too cautious,” she said.
Principal of her daughters’ school, Catherine Doyle at Scoil Mhuire gan Smal in Graignamanagh, was very good when Deirdre approached her to explain what she was doing.
Likewise, Total Highway Maintenance, employers of Deirdre’s husband Brian, were sympathetic to the family. They allowed Brian to work from home, which makes things easier on the family.
“There was no point in me self isolating and the girls and Brian being out and bringing the virus in,” Deirdre points out.
This is now their fourth week in isolation. They are lucky to live on the outskirts of Graignamanagh and every day go for a walk, as a family. But they don’t see or visit anyone, not even the grandparents who live nearby.
It hasn’t just been the school and employer that have supported the family. The community in Graignamanagh has been fantastic.
“Doran’s SuperValu is so good. I phone them and they bring my shopping to the front door,” Deirdre said. “Local people are so kind. I have gotten a lot of lovely texts from people offering help if we need it.”
Deirdre also has the support of her brother and sister, who live in Kilkenny. Her sister, Niamh, was able to collect a month of Deirdre’s essential medication from O’Connell’s Haven pharmacy and deliver it to her.
“Really, we don’t need to leave the house, but we go for a walk everyday, with the dog and the kids. We’re just keeping ourselves busy,” Deirdre said. “People have been amazing. You really see how good people are when these things happen.”
That daily walk is essential for Deirdre who needs to take exercise for her lung function.
Until last November Deirdre was a teacher at the CBS secondary school in Kilkenny city. As a teacher of business it’s not exactly the subject she’s now teaching at ‘home school’ but Deirdre and her girls have their own little routine going and might do a bit of baking together, during the day. The girls are being very good, she said.
They have all made sacrifices for Deirdre. Before sports shut down the girls stopped playing camogie and Brian stopped playing golf.
What has upset Deirdre in recent days are the reports of people coughing on others on purpose. “It’s terrifying,” she said, “but we feel safe here. We don’t need to go out. We are very lucky.”
Deirdre paid tribute to her consultants Professors O’Meara and Egan at the Mater Hospital, and all the amazing staff there who have given her unbelievable care over the years. She usually has monthly check ups there. At the moment they have arranged phone check ups and she can get her bloods done locally in Kilkenny, unless she gets ill.
“I have to be so careful. I have been so lucky.”
Part of Deirdre’s support network has been the Cystic Fibrosis Ireland organisation. “They are brilliant,” she said. The organisation provides a lot of services, including funding an exercise grant for CF sufferers to help them keep their lung function up; they also fund research into the condition; and they support families who need it, particular families who are finding it hard and may not be able to go to work if children are sick.
“So many people in Ireland are carriers and they don’t know it,” Deirdre highlighted.
Today, all newborns in Ireland are tested for the gene, but that didn’t happen when Deirdre was born. She was diagnosed at six months old.
This year, because of the coronavirus crisis, the annual CFI fundraiser, 65 Roses, is going virtual. Usually we would be asked to buy a rose from a street seller. This year we are being asked to donate online, if we can, at 65rosesday.ie
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