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Connacht Tribune

Sinéad is smashing through the barriers!

Denise McNamara



Sinead O'Donnell after she was presented with her PhD at NUIG.

She has a PhD, a Masters, a degree in law as well as a basic degree. Yet despite her phenomenal academic achievements, Sinead O’Donnell is struggling to find work.

Because – so far – employers have been unable to look beyond her severe physical disabilities.

“If they only focus on what I can’t do, I’ll never get a break. But if they see past it, the skies are the limit,” she reflects.

Sinead has Cerebral Palsy which is complicated by thoracic scoliosis, profound spasticity and constant pain due to multiple surgeries over the past decade.

She requires assistance to do everything – from getting out of bed in the morning to eating, dressing and getting into her wheelchair. Which makes her educational feats even more remarkable.

She is likely to be the most decorated student with high dependency needs in the country.

But that fact has only served to whet her appetite to achieve more in life.

“I’m not where I want to be,” she confides.

“I feel a burden to my parents – I always feel that way. That’s why I work. I want to be completely self-sufficient.”

Her mother Patricia O’Donnell – a retired special needs assistant who lives in Gort – is quick to interject, insisting that she has been far from a burden.

“Sinead wanted to leave home at 18 – she wanted to be gone, she wanted to be away. She had to come home very weekend for a long time but would be away for the week.

“She didn’t like that because at home you have to go to be when your parents go to bed because she wouldn’t be able to go to bed on her own. And it’s not that we were strict or anything, she just liked the freedom of being independent.”

From the age of two, Sinead demonstrated a particularly intense interest in life and people, recalls her proud mom.

“She was always listening to what was going on, listening to people having a conversation. I was quite busy when she was in school but she could always tell me what was going on in the world.”

Born in the Netherlands eleven weeks premature in 1984, Sinead was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy Quadriplegia (CPQ) when she was nine months old.

Cerebral Palsy is caused by brain injury before, during, or shortly after birth. It is a complex neurological condition that affects a person’s posture, co-ordination and ability to move arms and legs.

As she recalls in her thesis, which is an examination of independent living for people with disabilities and high dependency needs:

“The outlook for me given to my parents about my future was bleak but from the outset they saw potential in me that others missed.

“They enrolled me in a course of Conductive Education run by the Peto Institute, renowned for its positive approach to children with CPQ, wishing to give me every chance to live as normal and independent a life as possible.

“They quickly passed on this determination to me – a wish to strive in every respect to live a full and fulfilling life.”

As a young child, she was placed with other disabled children in schools in Rotterdam and Southampton in the UK where there was no academic focus.

“After a long struggle, my parents were successful in their quest to enroll me in a mainstream school and so I woke up, started to learn, had numerous friends and went from strength to strength in my new environment.

“These early experiences of both segregation and integration tell us that unless a human being is accepted for who they are through complete integration, they will not develop and grow to their full potential.”

One she found a suitable place to live and secured personal assistance hours and social housing supports, she embarked on her third level education.

For the last decade she has lived in a supported housing estate managed by the Irish Wheelchair Association on the Headford Road.

Patricia says that, at NUI Galway, her daughter has also proved to be a ground-breaker.

“When she started in 2003, NUIG was very inaccessible. She had to go to the back of the university to the delivery area to get into the lecture hall and then have to sit on the podium away from all the other students. She was very unhappy with that situation and she was instrumental in changing the access for all students – she couldn’t even get into the library”

Sinead remembers it as a form of segregation.

“They were surprised I was speaking up.”

The challenges she faced in completing her studies were formidable. Sinead gets tired quickly particularly if she speaks or sits for too long, which can set off the severe pain.

During her six years of doctorate study, she has undergone three major operations, nearly dying from infections on a number of occasions.

Crucial to her independent living and studying regime is ‘simultaneous and consistent’ access to a personal assistant to help with day-to-day living as well as an education support worker to assist with college work. This has not always been so, she laments.

It has also proved difficult conducting research outside of the allocated support worker hours.

“Starting from the very basic task of setting up IT equipment through to locating, browsing and finding relevant reading to extracting chosen appropriate material has been a mammoth task and at times almost impossible,” she writes in her thesis.

“The disruptions by my physical support and basic needs to the day-to-day research process were constant, very time-consuming, and curtailed momentum.

“Using the bathroom, which entails hoisting, can take up to 30 minutes or more and feeding, hydration and repositioning because of pain at pressure points and postural problems all impeded the smooth flow of the necessary academic research, causing me huge frustration and loss of focus.”

In her thesis, she argues the Government should go a step further by taking the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – adopted in Ireland in 2006 – and make them legally binding in the form of a Personal Assistance Act, which would make access to personal assistance services a basic human right enshrined in law.

We are sitting in Sinead’s cosy sitting room beside a picture of her donning a cap and gown during the graduation ceremony last month.

“Half of the people who do PhDs drop out, so considering all that and my level of disability on top, I’m glad I finished it. Now it’s about finding a new purpose.”

She would like to work in an organisation like the Irish Wheelchair Association or the HSE.

“Somewhere I could use my experiences to help young people with disabilities reach their full potential and give then the courage to pursue their aspirations.”

Connacht Tribune

Influx of visitors heightens Covid fears

Dara Bradley



Saolta CEO Tony Canavan

Local health chiefs are planning for the worst case scenario of a second surge of Coronavirus brought on by domestic tourism – as ‘staycationers’ from parts of the country where the virus is more prevalent carry it into the west.

There has been just one new confirmed case of Covid-19 in Galway in the past week, and just a handful of new cases in the past several weeks.

But the authorities fear tourists from parts of the country more affected by the virus will result in an increase here during August and September.

There are also concerns that there are not enough beds in the public health system to cope with a resurgence of Covid-19 alongside regular winter hospital admissions.

Tony Canavan, CEO of Saolta, which manages public hospitals in the West, at the HSE West Regional Health Forum this week, said health workers are anxious that the deadly virus will spread to the West, as the reopening of society continues.

“There are concerns among those working in the health system associated with Government plans to reopen society and the economy, even though we know that is absolutely necessary and important for the well-being of the population as a whole.

“But the concerns we have relate to the greater movement of people whether it’s going to and from work, or going about their business, whether it’s attending the shops or entertainment events and so on, and that greater movement of people creates an environment where the risk of the spread of Covid-19 is increased.

“We’re particularly concerned in the West and North West, that there would be a level of movement of people associated with tourism at this time of year,” said Mr Canavan.

Read the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. You can also add the paper to your online grocery delivery; you can purchase a digital edition here, or you can have it delivered at no extra charge by An Post; full details are on this website.

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Connacht Tribune

Chanelle McCoy unveils her clinically proven cannabinoid cure

Stephen Corrigan



Chanelle McCoy (left) and Caroline Glynn with their new Pureis product line in Galway this week. Photos: Joe O'Shaughnessy.

The usage of CBD food supplements to treat a whole raft of illnesses and conditions in recent years has given rise to concern that many of the products currently on the market are being sold to consumers without any clinical trials to verify their safety.

It was the rise in demand for these products that first caught the attention of well-known Loughrea business woman Chanelle McCoy who this week, together with her business partner and fellow Galwegian Caroline Glynn, launched the first CBD product on the Irish market that has been clinically proven to be safe – Pureis.

Chanelle, whose family business Chanelle Pharma in Loughrea has a proven track record in the medical world, stepped back from that venture five years ago to focus on her own Chanelle McCoy Health.

“My family business in Chanelle Pharma in Loughrea and so I’ve worked there for about 18 years. When I joined the business, it was a veterinary business and my father and I co-founded the medical side of the business. Then I was lucky to have the opportunity to lead that medical business over the last 18 years with a great team and with Caroline working with me,” says Chanelle of the beginning of her working relationship with Caroline.

“We bought the medical business into 96 countries around the world and we got over 2,500 product licences granted across those 96 countries. We would be looking at products in terms of what to put into the R&D pipeline and I started looking at CBD back in 2015, probably inspired a bit by Vera Twomey and the inability for moms like her to access good quality CBD products for kids like Ava,” she says, explaining that Cork woman Vera Twomey’s plight to secure cannabidiol treatment for her daughter’s epilepsy was a real eye-opener.

Read the full feature in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. You can also add the paper to your online grocery delivery; you can purchase a digital edition here, or you can have it delivered at no extra charge by An Post; full details are on this website.

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Connacht Tribune

State can’t leave Galway addiction services in limbo

Dara Bradley



Any further delay in setting up an alcohol addiction treatment service in Galway City will result in more deaths, including suicides, of problem drinkers – and cause ‘total devastation’ to local families, addiction experts have warned.

Addiction Counsellors of Ireland (ACI) has demanded that the Health Service Executive (HSE) immediately establishes an alcohol treatment service in the city.

The professional body which accredits counsellors claims that GPs in Galway are ‘flooded’ with drink-related patients, and the Emergency Department ‘can’t cope’ with the level of alcohol admissions.

It said the long-awaited alcohol addiction treatment service planned for the city would save lives and save tens of thousands of euro on alcohol-related emergency admissions at University Hospital Galway.

Some €470,000 a year funding for the service was announced by the previous Government last December; and a commitment for the service was contained in the Programme for Government agreed by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and Green Party.

This week, Galway West TD Hildegarde Naughton, a Minister of State in the new administration, confirmed that some €225,000 for the service from now to Christmas, is available in the 2020 HSE budget to get the service up and running.

Local addiction counsellors have now demanded that the HSE urgently hire the staff, and source a building, to roll out the alcohol addiction service, which has been absent for the past seven years.

Read the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now. You can also add the paper to your online grocery delivery; you can purchase a digital edition here, or you can have it delivered at no extra charge by An Post; full details are on this website.

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