“Aengus had a football accident. He was playing indoor soccer in Sligo when he banged his head on a wall and suffered what they call a C1 spinal injury. It’s a high neck injury and it meant Aengus was paralysed.”

Kay Lyons has spent more time in the Mater Hospital than most. But she wasn’t there as a patient; instead, she was practically living in the hospital to be with her son, Aengus.

After Aengus suffered his injury, he was rushed to the National Spinal Injuries Unit in the Mater Hospital for surgery. His condition was critical upon arrival to the Intensive Care Unit, and he was put on a ventilator to keep him breathing. For Aengus, Kay, her husband, and their daughter, it was a life shattering experience.

With such a serious injury, Aengus was a high-risk patient and needed immediate and extremely specialised surgery in the National Spinal Injury Unit of the Mater Hospital.

“Aengus had major surgery, and he was in ICU for about six weeks. All of that time we were with him. We were staying in the hostel, which the nurses said we could use. It was so important to be close to him,” says Kay.

The Mater Hostel provides accommodation for families of seriously ill patients, usually those living too far away from Dublin to return home every day. With a kitchen, private bedrooms, and a living area, it’s a place of quiet away from the busy hospital.

“We were in the hostel for about two years and I can’t speak highly enough about how much of a benefit it was to us. The main thing was to be near Aengus. Just for us to be able to read him the newspapers and sit by his bedside. The hostel gave us that opportunity. Otherwise we’d never have been able to afford staying there for so long.”

One of the complex surgeries Aengus received by the specialised staff was the implant of phrenic nerve stimulators. These implants stimulate the lungs so Aengus can breathe without the need to be connected to a ventilator, and they would also give him freedom to leave the hospital for several hours at a time. The surgery – only the second time it had been carried out in Ireland – was complex and high-risk, but Aengus got on well, and was eventually weaned off the ventilator.

The implants have made an immense difference to his life. As Aengus is a huge soccer fan, the staff in the Spinal Unit took him to the Aviva Stadium to see Ireland play an international game, bringing some independence back into his life after such a difficult few years.

“Aengus can get out and about now that he’s back with us in Sligo. We can bring him out to restaurants or to the cinema, and he’s been to the seaside and places like that,” says Kay. “I can’t speak highly enough of what the Mater’s Spinal Unit did for Aengus, and what the hostel did for us.”

The Mater Foundation supports the National Spinal Injury Unit at the Mater Hospital by purchasing state-of-the-art medical equipment, upgrading patient facilities, and investing in research. Donate today to make a lifesaving difference for spinal injury patients.

The Rheumatology Department in the Mater Hospital has unveiled four refurbished out-patient clinic rooms that will significantly improve patient comfort and access.

The team – which treats complex rheumatological disorders such as inflammatory arthritis and osteoporosis – can now provide a much more comfortable and efficient service. Previously the rooms were difficult to access, particularly for patients in wheelchairs and with impaired mobility.

The Mater Foundation granted funds raised by the Mater Hospital Charity Shop to facilitate the upgrade of the rooms. The shop, which is unique in Ireland as it is solely run by volunteers, is managed by Sister Gerard Egan.

Speaking at the unveiling ceremony, Dr Conor McCarthy said, “This is the first major refurbishment that has taken place in the Rheumatology Department in 27 years, and thanks to the support of the Mater Hospital Charity Shop and the Mater Foundation, it will make a very big difference to the quality of the care delivered to patients.”

The department sees almost 5,000 patients each year, with many needing intensive monitoring and regular review.

The clinic rooms are the hub of the department and this refurbishment will enhance the patient experience throughout their time spent with the clinical staff.

Mary Moorhead, CEO of the Mater Foundation, said of the project, “The volunteers in the Mater Hospital Charity Shop have made a big impact by helping to refurbish rooms where specialists treat so many patients with serious rheumatological conditions. They will benefit immensely from the project and we’d like to thank them for everything they’ve done.”

“The night I went for the transplant, there were tears in everyone’s eyes up there. It wasn’t just me and my family, you know, they were all like that… all of the staff.”

Shane O’Connell was aware of his cardiomyopathy since he was just 11 years old. He knew about his family history of the condition, but it didn’t stop him growing up like any teenager should.

Life was normal for Shane, “100% perfectly fine”, as he puts it. He just got on with going to school, graduating, keeping up with everyone else, working full time, and socialising.

But into his 20s, things started to change. Shane’s doctor was surprised that he wasn’t feeling the effects of the cardiomyopathy, a disease that causes the enlargement of the heart muscle, meaning it becomes weaker and is unable to pump blood through the body as it should.

“Honestly, it was over the course of a year, a year I didn’t imagine happening. I went from A to Z in my health, really. I had a defibrillator fitted up in Dublin at the Mater, but still went ahead with life. I got married in 2007 and right after that I got my first hit. I fell down at a friend’s house and blacked out. But the defib shocked me back.”

Only for the defibrillator, Shane might have faced a much more serious outcome. “I thought that was lights out,” he says.

Shane with his three children

About two years later, Shane had another episode while at work. He received nine shocks from the defibrillator and learned his condition was worsening.

“When I got up that morning I knew something wasn’t right. I was extra tired but I just told myself to get on with it.”

Although conscious for the shocks, they marked a turning point for Shane. He was told by his doctor in the Mater Hospital that he needed to go on the heart transplant list as his heart was rapidly failing.

“I was weaker, I knew I was weaker, I felt weaker. It was an awful deterioration. But I always knew it was coming along the line, the transplant, but I said I’d wait until I was on my knees. Dr Mahon said I couldn’t do that. I needed to be in good enough health for it. So on 15th February 2012 I went on the list.”

For Shane, his wife Tricia, and three children, it would be a long wait. He was admitted to hospital in December 2012, and it was 11 months before the call came. During that time, Shane was on infusions 24/7, a treatment that regulates the pressure between the heart and lungs.

“The night I went for the transplant, there were tears in everyone’s eyes up there. It wasn’t just me and my family, you know, they were all like that… all of the staff.”

Shane’s transplant proved successful and he faced into a long period of recovery, one he didn’t quite expect. “You don’t think about the period after. You think you’ll be up and flying, but it doesn’t work like that. I couldn’t thank the Mater staff enough. I wouldn’t even call them nurses or doctors. I was on first name terms with them all. They were like family.”

Shane out cycling in Kerry

Fast-forward almost 4 years and Shane is most certainly flying. His health is his wealth and he treats every day as an opportunity to keep getting better. In July 2017, he completed the 180 km Ring of Kerry cycle event, something that seemed almost impossible just a few short years ago.

“I like hillwalking, a bit of mountain climbing, things out and about in nature. I’m back working and you’ll find me in the gym three mornings every week before work. I mean I have health, and health to spare. I’m 37 now and enjoy the simple things. I wouldn’t trade it for gold, none of it.

The Mater Hospital is home to the National Heart and Lung Transplantation Unit, and carries out around 50 heart and lung transplants each year. The Mater Foundation supports the unit by funding state-of-the-art equipment, upgrading patient facilities, and improving patient comfort.

We’re delighted to announce the winners of the Mater Foundation Summer Raffle 2017!

We asked for your support to help improve cancer patient services in the Mater Hospital. As demands on these services are increasing year on year, urgent funding is required to continue investing in state-of-the-art medical equipment and vital patient-focused care.

We received an overwhelming response and the winners are:

  • 1st Prize of €5,000: Mr Stephen Casey, Co Kildare
  • 2nd Prize of €1,000: Mrs Maria Corcoran, Co Dublin
  • Seller’s Prize of €1,000: Mr Mary Bannon, Co Meath

Thanks to everyone who took part, we can now invest in equipment such as blood pressure monitors for each patient room to reduce the risk of cross infection, and syringe pumps for better pain management.

These are simple things that may be taken for granted, but without your support, we would not have them for the patients who need them most.

Thank you again to everyone who sold and bought tickets to ensure that the Mater Foundation can continue advancing care for every patient, every day.

“They said to go home, they said to wait and they would monitor the progress. There was basically nothing they could do for me. I had about three months to live.”

Ciara Ebbs has a story like no other. It’s almost unthinkable that a 21-year-old girl from Dunboyne, Co. Meath could endure – and survive – a serious spinal injury and a tumour at the same point in time.

A member of the local amateur dramatics society and in the middle of rehearsals for a new musical, Ciara was ready for a summer of acting and dancing, once her college exams were over. She was studying business and French.

“I remember hearing the crunch in the garden. Myself and my ex-boyfriend were messing there and I fell. I had pain for a few weeks after and I didn’t really know what was happening. I ended up in the Mater and I was told a bone had broken very badly in my neck. It’s really rare, but it can happen.”

Ciara had a neck brace fitted and was sent home to recuperate, knowing that only time and specialised care in the Mater would return her to health. The brace was to support her recovery for around four months, but during that time, the pain grew worse.

“I started to lose movement in my arms. They decided to scan me and then they discovered it. There was a growth in my neck. After a round of surgery they saw it was a tumour. It was a one in a million chance I could get it where I did.”

Ciara faced into two surgeries to remove the tumour and was sent home to rest before she would begin radiotherapy. She was nervous but hopeful that the medical team had taken it all out.

“The Mater staff were just so wonderful while I was there and they made an experience that should have been really, really horrible a lot more bearable. Between the surgeons and the porters, to the kitchen staff and nurses, everyone was so good to me.”

But then Ciara received the worst news possible. The radiotherapy hadn’t worked and the tumour had grown back and had also spread to her bones and lungs. At this point the outlook was bleak, with the medical team fearing it would severely damage her spinal column and lungs.

“I remember saying to my doctor, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ And he said ‘Look just sit down for a second.’ And I was like ‘No, no that’s what they tell people to do in the films, I’m not going to sit down, what’s wrong with me?’ And that’s when he told me it was back and after spreading.”

Ciara’s doctor said chemotherapy could turn the tumour malignant which meant it could potentially spread to other organs. It was February 2005, and Ciara was sent home, believing she had just months to live.

“I had been through it all. I had to deal with the cancer and on top of that learn how to walk again. I was essentially paralysed after the emergency surgery to remove the tumour. But I said to my parents, ‘I’m not going anywhere’, and I didn’t. Somehow my body fought it off.”

Ciara was also told it was very unlikely she would ever be able to have children. The medical team said it could be too dangerous after all the intensive treatment she had.

But in early 2017, Ciara gave birth to a baby girl called Brogan.

“I feel so lucky to have had her. I also feel so fortunate to have come through such serious illnesses and be able to have a baby. I just stayed positive and kept looking forward. And I had to give back to everyone who looked after me in the Mater. That was important to me.”

Ciara has since completed the VHI Women’s Mini-Marathon twice, the first time in a wheelchair and the second time walking. She also organised a charity ball in aid of the hospital. The funds she has raised have made an immense difference to patient care, for people like her who needed lifesaving treatment.

“It wasn’t just the spinal unit that helped me. It was the girls in the physio department, others in social work and the porters. It’s all encompassing and that’s what I think is so important.”

Ciara is now living in Dunboyne and working with a local herbalist, where she regularly meets with people who are facing into difficult medical situations, just like she did.

“I meet a lot of people who are so, so ill. Even people who have had spinal injuries, and surgery, even paralysis. And some days I tell my story, I tell them, ‘I understand’. That can give them hope, let them know things might just be ok.’

On June 5th, the VHI Women’s Mini-Marathon took place in Dublin, and our Mater Foundation team of amazing women were amongst 40,000 others who walked, jogged and ran the 10 km course.

The Mater team were raising vital funds for many areas of the hospital, including the heart and lung transplantation unit, the Family Heart Screening Clinic, cancer care services, and different units and wards of the hospital.

After the race, an after-party was held in Cafe en Seine on Dawson St, which provided a place to rest and dry off after the rain that swept in over the city in the afternoon.

Thank you so much to all the women who took part and everyone who supported them make a big difference to patients in the Mater Hospital. Have a look at some of the photos below from the day!

If you’d like to do something incredible for patients in the Mater, please visit our Take on a Challenge page for inspiration!

Rory Hegarty was just a month short of his 17th birthday when he passed away suddenly in his sleep in 2009. The cause was Sudden Adult Death Syndrome, more commonly known as SADS.

Since then, his friends and family have organised annual fundraising events to support the Mater’s Family Heart Screening Clinic, which tests families for inherited cardiac conditions such as SADS and Long QT Syndrome – both potentially fatal if left undetected.

With one person in Ireland passing away from SADS each week, the service is essential to ensure more families don’t suffer the pain of losing a loved one.

Recently, Cian Hogan, from Rathfarnham, Dublin, along with friends Ciaran McHugh and Aoife Gray, presented a cheque for €14,434 to the Mater Foundation, and the funds will go towards supporting family heart screening in the Mater Hospital, which last year began testing children as young as 8 years of age.

The money was raised from the Rory Hegarty Memorial Fight Night, a charity ‘white-collar boxing’ event held on Friday 3rd March in Club 92, Leopardstown, in memory of Rory.

On the night, 34 amateur fighters took to the ring to rumble for Rory. A group of his friends began intensive training six weeks before the event and by the time they entered the ring they were well-prepared for the intensive bouts.

“It was very important to us to support family heart screening in memory of our friend Rory. The Family Heart Screening Clinic at the Mater does incredible, lifesaving work and we hope our efforts will spare other families the pain of losing a loved one. We are still amazed with the support we received from Day 1, and friends and local businesses were more than generous with donations and giving us a hand. It was a real testament to how special Rory was to everyone,” said Cian.

An outstanding crowd of over 700 people arrived at Club 92, Leopardstown to show their support.  Together, they were each part of a special event for a special person and raised an incredible amount of money.

Since 2007, the Family Heart Screening Clinic has screened almost 9,000 people, saving hundreds of lives in the process. The clinic is almost entirely supported by the Mater Foundation and receives limited government funding.

“What Cian and his friends have done is truly amazing,” said Tom Hickey, Head of Fundraising at the Mater Foundation.

“Family heart screening at the Mater has saved hundreds of lives since it began its work 10 years ago. This fundraiser showed the wonderful strength of support for Rory’s friends and family, but also a determination to ensure other families never have to lose those closest and dearest to them.”

It is because of the amazing support of people just like you that so much has been achieved to improve cancer patient care at the Mater Hospital. When you give your support, great things happen. Great things such as over €625,000 provided for life-saving equipment for the Mater’s Cancer Day Unit and funding for a family room on the cancer ward.

But the demands on our cancer patient services increase year on year, so it’s essential that we continue to invest in state-of-the-art medical equipment and vital patient-focused care.

Urgent funding is now required for essential medical equipment for people like Aisling McStay who was just 27 years old when she was diagnosed with cancer.

Equipment such as blood pressure monitors for each patient room to reduce the risk of cross infection, and syringe pumps for better pain management. We also need reclining chairs so that patients can have a loved one stay with them during their treatment. These are simple things that may be taken for granted, but without your support, we will not have them for people like Aisling.

As you can imagine, Aisling was devastated when she received the news in January 2016 that she had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. She had moved into a new house with her fiancee Jack and they planned to get married that summer. Sadly, those plans were postponed as Aisling was too ill.

“I had been admitted to hospital with a massive lump on my throat and cancer was found near my heart and lungs. I underwent chemotherapy which didn’t work and it took so much out of me. I was then admitted to St. Vincent’s Ward for stronger chemotherapy.”

Jack was with her all the time through her treatment and he used to sleep on the cold, hard floor to stay by her side. The equipment we so badly need will make such a difference for people like Aisling and Jack.

Aisling is now nine months clear of cancer and she and Jack plan to get married this summer.

“The staff are the most loving and caring people, they treated me like family. They would come in, sit down on my bed and give me a hug and tell me it’s all going to be ok. They kept me going in difficult times.”

Aisling is just one example of the many people around the country you can help by supporting our summer raffle.

Please get in touch with us through the form below if you would like to sell tickets, and we’ll send you a book of tickets right away. Tickets are €3 each or two for €5. If you sell them all, you will be entered into a special Seller’s Prize Draw where you could win €1,000.

The closing date for the raffle is 24th July and the draw will take place on 27th July.

The raffle is now over and winners will be announced on a separate post on the Mater Foundation website in the week beginning 31st July 2017

Summer Raffle 2017

When factory operative Michael Bowe consulted his GP about the flu-like symptoms he just couldn’t seem to shake, he was a bit surprised to be sent to hospital.

And utterly shocked, when, within two days, he was informed that he needed a heart transplant. Michael, then just 24, was told that he had cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart becomes enlarged, thick or rigid.

That was in September 2000, and the news sent shock waves across his family.

“It came out of the blue. I don’t know if we really took it in that Michael needed a heart transplant. It was not until he was undergoing tests in Dublin that the penny really dropped for us,” recalls his brother Damien.

Michael had his much-needed heart transplant in February 2001, but his body rejected his heart, and he died suddenly three years later. It was a terrible shock to a family which had already experienced tragedy in 1998, when Michael’s younger sister was killed in a car crash. Michael’s family were later tested for heart problems by the Mater Hospital’s Family Heart Screening Clinic.

The clinic checks families of those who have been affected by or who have lost loved ones to cardiac conditions, including Sudden Adult/Arrhythmic Death Syndrome (SADS). Almost 9,000 people have been screened for often hidden and potentially fatal diseases since the clinic opened in 2007 – and this figure includes 60 children as young as eight years of age, who have been screened in the last year at the clinic, which this year celebrates its 10th anniversary.

Breda Bowe, Michael’s mother, now aged 64, was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy following screening at the clinic, and had a defibrillator fitted.

Michael’s younger brother Fintan, now aged 23, was also found to have the condition and is now on medication for it. Damien and his father Pat, however, were given the all-clear, as were Damien’s three young sons, Iarlaith aged two, Ruairi five, and six-year-old Patrick, who were screened at the clinic in recent months.

Breda also underwent genetic testing which revealed that she is the gene carrier of the deficiency that leads to cardiomyopathy.

“For us, the screening at the clinic was critical,” recalls Damien, from Timahoe, Co Laois, who points out that Fintan is an enthusiastic hurler.

“Without the screening I believe he could have died suddenly of Sudden Adult Death Syndrome because he was completely unaware that he had the condition until he was screened. He’s now on medication and attends the clinic for screening every six months.

“My mother had a defibrillator fitted as a result of the screening.

“I believe the screening saved the lives of my mother and brother,” says Damien, who adds that knowing their three children have been screened is a massive reassurance to himself and his wife Anne-Marie, a nurse.

The Bowes are fully supportive of this year’s Heart Appeal to raise €95,000 for the purchase of a new ECHO machine for the clinic. This technology will provide much clearer images of the heart and lead to better diagnoses of often hidden cardiac problems into the future. The appeal also funds pioneering research into the causes and treatment of the disease, and with one person under the age of 35 passing away from an inherited cardiac condition every week in Ireland, such state-of-the-art screening technology and ongoing, in-depth research is badly needed.

This is an abridged version of an article which appeared in the Irish Independent on 21 February 2017. Image of heart testing above is an example of the service for patients and not connected to the Bowe family.

Donate Today to help save lives across Ireland through the purchase of a new ECHO Imaging machine. Your help is needed now more than ever as we aim to reach €95,000.

Finding out I had a hidden heart condition wasn’t easy. But finding out that this potential killer might also affect my four children was much more difficult.

I also know it could have been so much worse. I could have found out when it was too late. That would have been devastating. Sadly, for families from all over Ireland that’s exactly when they discover this hidden killer.

My daughter Laura and her brother Charlie were the first children to undergo screening at the Family Heart Screening Clinic at The Mater Hospital. In fact, all four of my children were screened there – Charlie, Laura, Mark & Kevin. Unfortunately, three out of the four were diagnosed with Long QT Syndrome, the same life-threatening condition that was discovered in my own heart. I dread to think of what could have happened if our conditions had gone undetected.

Charlie is too young to understand. But Laura and her older brother Mark have a better understanding of their diagnosis. Laura puts on a brave face, but early on we noticed she doesn’t like anyone to see her taking her medication. Her best friends know about her condition but it’s not something she likes to talk about. She keeps it all very quiet. I think a huge part of why is that she’s frightened.

But knowing that she has Long QT is critical because it’s only then that doctors can take the steps necessary to prevent her heart from stopping. Since she was diagnosed Laura’s school has had a defibrillator fitted. Having that on-site is crucial if anything were to happen to her.

Of course, I wish none of my children had to go through this. For the most part we try to carry on with life as normal. We know the amazing medical team at the Family Heart Screening Clinic are doing everything in their power to ensure my children and I live long and happy lives. You see we can’t change the diagnosis of Long QT, but we can treat it.

My children can have a normal life, they can dance and play sport. And I can have peace of mind knowing that everything possible is being done to protect their precious lives.

I’m hoping that you’ll help the Mater Foundation protect families like ours all over Ireland. With our help they can reduce the number of families left devastated by Sudden Cardiac Death.

Any gift you can give today will bring us closer to ensuring doctors at the Mater Family Heart Screening Clinic have the best equipment possible to help save lives.

Thank you for taking the time to read my letter today.

Brendan Byrne.

Little Laura Byrne and her brother Charlie were the first children under 14 to be screened at the Family Heart Screening Clinic, in February 2016. Many more children have been screened since and in the future the clinic hopes to test children as young as 3 years of age.

This February, we need to raise €95,000 for a new ECHO machine to take clearer pictures of the heart, and this is essential when screening children’s hearts, as they beat faster and are smaller, so the ECHO is really essential for quick and detailed diagnoses.

Support the Mater Heart Appeal by donating online or get in touch through email or call us on (01) 8303482 – you can be the difference for families just like the Byrnes.