IT was a 90-year old man – the late John Patrick Harrington – who blazed the trail to Belfast for a cataract operation to save his sight.
The man, together with his son Jerry Harrington, made the gruelling 1,000km round trip on October 24th 2017 with the assistance of West Cork Independent TD Michael Collins.
Michael Collins described the journey from Coomhola in Bantry to the Kingsbridge Private Hospital in Belfast as ‘a failure of our healthcare system and a failure in the country’s care of the elderly.’
Jerry described it differently. He said the eight-hour car journey was ‘punishing,’ and noted that ‘not even a lorry driver would be legally entitled to drive those hours.’
At the time, Mr Harrington was blind in one eye and rapidly losing the sight in the other, but despite his condition and advancing years he was told that he could be waiting three or four years to have a cataract operation under the Irish healthcare system .
It was John Patrick Harrington’s resilience that inspired Michael Collins and Independent Kerry TD Danny Healy-Rae to establish the Belfast or Blind bus – as it came to be known – and provide sight-saving assistance for more than 3,000 people.
Now, everything is done to make the journey as comfortable as possible. The logistics allow for a central departure point in Cork, as well as finance through the credit unions to cover the refundable cost of the treatment.
Deputy Collins said that people like the late John Patrick Harrington – who died peacefully in his 93rd year at his home, surrounded by his loving family – had ‘worked tirelessly all their life, and paid their dues, yet they were left suffering and in need for the simplest of procedures.’
John Patrick recovered well after his cataract operation. Jerry said the operation made a huge difference to his dad’s quality of life, as it has for thousands of others throughout West Cork who otherwise would have had to suffer in silence.