By Emma Connolly
A YOUNG Dunmanway woman who defied the odds to survive a devastating childhood illness, has written a book to show people what it’s like to live without your full health.
And in the process, 30-year-old Majella McCarthy is hoping to bring to €7,000 the amount she’s fundraised for the Cork branch of the Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Association of Ireland (SBHI) adult group, with all proceeds from the book going to them.
In ‘My Journey Through Life’ Majella, a twin, tells how she was born with her left leg tucked into her tummy which, after a few months, required nine weeks on traction. It didn’t solve the problem and at 18 months she developed a low grade fever and was admitted to CUH where her condition worsened over three weeks.
She was transferred to Our Lady’s Hospital in Crumlin where she remained for just three nights shy of a year.
And mum Nora stayed with her for all but one of those nights. For three and a half of those months, Majella lay unconscious and Nora recalled that ‘no two days were the same.’
‘We were told there was no hope,’ she remembers.
‘But she defied the odds. One consultant said that it wasn’t medicine that had cured her, but divine power,’ she said, adding she was incredibly proud of her daughter.
What had happened was that her left leg tucked into her tummy had caused an infection on her hip, which spread to her spine and then her brain, causing her ventricles to block, resulting in meningitis. As a result of that, Majella developed hydrocephalus – water on the brain – a condition she lives with today and which makes it hard for her to retain information. Meningitis also caused her to lose the hearing in her left ear.
Several surgeries have also caused facial palsy. Absolutely none of these matters have held Majella back but they have had an impact, and outlining these was a reason for writing the book.
‘I just want to make people who have no health issues aware what it’s like for those of us who do,’ she says.
She writes: ‘When I started primary school, I was so delighted. The teachers were so good to me as my balance was not very good. I found it difficult to have friends as I was not as able as they were, and I think they did not understand me.
‘Secondary school was another high challenge for me, all the different teachers and subjects. I can thankfully say I did my Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate and passed them both which was a great achievement for me … my mother could easily have taken her exams again, she spent so many hours at the table helping me with my homework.’
Majella writes that she would loved to have attended college but knew she wouldn’t be able.
‘It was soul destroying for me, as a lot of people in my year moved on with their lives and I felt so left out. At times I had to sit back and listen to all the chat of what college life was like and what people thought were problems and I felt like saying “step into my shoes any day if you like.”’
She also acknowledges that at times it’s difficult being a twin as she’s seen her brother Daniel travel and have a different life to her, but she says his son Oisin is one of her greatest joys in life.
After a few different jobs, Majella is relishing her current role as a music therapist in Bushmount Nursing Home in Clonakilty, where she plays the violin and accordion for patients, driving herself to and from work having also passed her test.
Working here, she says, has given her more confidence, happiness and independence: ‘I’ve learned that I’ve a purpose in life.’
Since joining the SBHI, Majella is beginning to look at life differently and realising that the grass isn’t always greener. ‘I have learned my negatives in life must be turned into positives … I realise I could be so much worse off. I have come to realise that people with disabilities are really strong human beings who smile through a lot of situations.’ Nonetheless, she writes: ‘I have learned that a lot of people seem to think that people with health issues are not capable of having normal conversations. So many times I have had to bite my lip to stop myself from saying something rude. My experiences in life have left me knowing exactly who is there for me, and who is not.’
It’s easy to feel hard done by in life, she writes, but we have to think positively and keep plodding on.
But if she had a magic wand, she says she’d like more independence and friends of her own age.
Majella credits her SBHI support worker Deirdre Gallagher for her help in writing the book, describing her as ‘like a sister.’
She also thanks sponsors including Tar Isteach, Dunmanway Credit Union, Murray Bros and Cork County Council, for their support towards the self-published book.
The first 200 copies sold on the recent launch night; the next 100 flew out the door at a subsequent signing and a further 100 will be available shortly in Drinagh Co-op store, Skibbereen; Coughlan’s, Clonakilty; Centra Enniskeane, and other local shops in the Dunmanway area for €10.