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Marathon man Ernesto has gift of life to keep him going



Date Published: {J}

AS a youngster Ernesto Antonio often wondered where he’d be spending New Year’s Eve on the night of the millennium, but in his wildest dreams he could never have imagined what the answer would be.

On December 31, 1999 while most of the country was out partying, Ernesto was the Mater Hospital, recovering from the life-saving heart transplant he had received the previous October.

Until he was in his mid-30s, Ernesto, who was born in Bushypark in Galway City, was a fit and healthy man. His mother who was from Louth had met his Hong Kong-born father, a Portuguese Malaysian while she was working as a nurse in China. Their first child Juliana was born in Hong Kong, Ernesto and his brother José were born here after the Antonios settled in Galway in 1963 where his father, an engineer, worked with Hibernian as an assessor.

Ernesto followed his mother into the nursing profession, training at the city’s then Regional Hospital in the early 1980s before emigrating to England for work in 1987. There he met and married his English-born wife Kate.

He’d always been very fit, cycling and walking everywhere, and in 1998 he took part in a charity ride across the Middle East in memory of a friend who had died of leukaemia. The following April he developed a bad chest infection, which didn’t clear up. His specialist kept treating him for asthma, despite Ernesto’s protestations that asthma wasn’t the problem, it was his heart. He was ignored.

That August, he made his annual pilgrimage home on holidays with Kate and their five-year old daughter, Isabella. He was progressively getting more exhausted and was no longer able to exercise.

This formerly fit 36-year old spent the day of his niece’s birthday party, August 9, 1999 in bed and the following day, went to his own doctor, who diagnosed heart failure and said he needed to go to hospital urgently.

But, when he arrived at A&E the following morning he was told there was nothing wrong with his heart and was sent to Merlin Park. The registrar there “took one look at me, uttered a few expletives and ordered an ambulance to send me to coronary care”.

Things went from bad to worse, as he went into renal and liver failure. He was put on dialysis until his kidney function began to return. His liver also recovered, but his heart did not.

Blood tests diagnosed Q Fever and another virus which was never diagnosed. Humans generally get Q Fever as a result of breathing in contaminated droplets released by infected animals. One effect of the infection is inflammation of the heart wall which can lead to heart failure. There was a theory that Ernesto might have contracted it in the Middle East, but not necessarily, he says. It had also been found in deer at the local park in Essex where he cycled.

On September 11, 1999, his cardiologist in Galway told him that he needed a heart transplant and sent him to the Mater for assessment. Ernesto’s condition was so serious that he was sent immediately to Intensive Care, where a balloon pump was utilised to circulate the blood around his body, as his heart was no longer capable of doing so.

Kate was with him at all stages, while Isabella had stayed in Galway with his sister Juliana. Shortly after he was admitted, a heart became available and he was prepared for an operation. But it turned out the heart was too small.

“I felt then, and I said it to Kate that it would be the third heart before the right one came along,” he recalls. He was right.

He’d been hoping against hope to have his transplant by October 20, 1999 as that was Isabella’s sixth birthday. But it didn’t happen. The family celebrated her birthday in Ernesto’s cubicle in Intensive Care, with Ernesto on an oxygen mask and six candles on her cake, despite the oxygen. She still says it was her best ever.

Kate, Isabella and Ernesto’s family did not give up hope, he recalls.

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

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Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.


For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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Archive News

Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup



Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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