Bandon student Áine O’Donovan hasn’t let her diagnosis slow her down, or diminish her enthusiasm for sport, she tells Brian Moore
ÁINE O’Donovan loves sport.
The Bandon student, who is studying childcare at the Cork Institute of Technology (CIT), is looking forward to graduating so that she can travel and perhaps work in, as she puts it ‘in warmer climes, so that I can get some heat into my bones’.
Twenty year-old Aíne, just like almost 1,000 children across the country, does not look forward to the winter months in Ireland.
‘I have Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA – Rheumatoid Factor Positive), a lot of people would probably know this better as Rheumatoid Arthritis in children. This is a long-term chronic disease resulting in joint pain and swelling,’ Aíne told The Southern Star.
The sports-mad young woman was first diagnosed with JIA when she was 13 years old and, while fearful of the future, Aíne found her teachers and classmates at Coláiste na Toirbhirte very supportive.
‘I know now that I had this condition long before I was diagnosed,’ Aíne continued. ‘As a child I would often complain that my hands, or my legs, were “tired”. I suppose at the time this was the only way I could explain that I had pains in my hands and legs.’
Aíne was (and still is) passionate about her soccer, basket ball, camogie and hockey, so when she was told that she had to stop participating in her favourite sports, this was a major blow to the teenager’s life.
‘My first question was, “Could I still play sport?” After that I couldn’t understand why I had, what I thought was, an old person’s disease.’
However, Aíne was soon to learn that there were hundreds of children across the country with JIA and a lot of these children are waiting two years or more to be seen by consultants.
‘When a child in Ireland is diagnosed with JIA they have to travel to Dublin for specialist care in either Crumlin or Temple Street hospitals,’ Aíne explained. ‘This means that a child who is already in pain has to endure a journey to Dublin, once or twice a month. As a dedicated follower of sport, my new favourite teams are the consultants, arthritis nurses, occupational therapists and physiotherapists who care for us, each one working under tremendous pressure and still managing to be cheerful and full of encouragement!’ she added.
‘These professionals are under so much pressure because children in Ireland have the EU’s worst level of care for children with arthritis, mainly due to complete lack of funding and specialist personnel resources,’ she pointed out.
Faced with these facts, Aíne put her support behind the Irish Children’s Arthritis Network (ICAN). ‘On one of my many hospital trips, while waiting in the waiting room, I picked up a colourful flyer with the words ICAN on it. With time to pass, I started reading it,’ she recalled. ‘Little did I realise how beneficial this was going to be.’ ICAN is a voluntary organisation set up and run by the parents of children with arthritis. The organisation works tirelessly in trying to create awareness, advocate government for funds, help families, and support all juveniles with the condition. ICAN does not receive any government support, they are constantly fund raising to try and help children with arthritis.
‘I am privileged to be a mentor with this group and have made many good friends. I would encourage any young people with JIA to get in touch with ICAN.
‘The networking events are good fun but, more importantly, everyone gets time to chat to people their own age suffering similarly to themselves,’ explained Áine.
‘It is also extremely helpful to parents who meet up on these occasions because the support the “ICAN Family” offers is second to none. It has certainly helped me to turn a negative situation into a positive one,’ Aíne said.
For Aíne, sport is still a huge part of her life as she is a liaison officer with Cork City women’s soccer club, as well as the manager of the Under 12 girls at her local Bandon Soccer club.
‘Being able to be part of the sport that I love has meant so much to me and I would encourage anyone who has been diagnosed with an illness to find a way to continue taking part in whatever sport or hobby you love.
‘I was delighted back in October as part of World Arthritis Day that we and ICAN were supported by Cork City soccer club when we were flag bearers in Turner’s Cross on match night,’ Aíne said.
For more information, or to support ICAN, log on to icanireland.ie.