Lifestyle – Judy Murphy meets a brave young woman who received a liver transplant
Saranne Flaherty rang the Claregalway Hotel on Monday of the Galway Races in July 2011 to tell her employers that she was sick and couldn’t come in.
The 20-year-old was worried that they’d be annoyed with her for calling in sick on their busiest week of the year. As it happened, that soon became the least of her worries. Within months she was crucially ill, waiting for a liver transplant.
Saranne, who had been diagnosed with an auto-immune disorder two years previously, had been complaining of abdominal pains over that weekend in July 2011.
Initially she reckoned it was a pulled muscle, but her doctor referred her to UHG. He was worried she might have a clot on her lung, because of the location of the pain. From UHG she was sent to Merlin Park where she spent two and a half weeks, undergoing CAT scans and MRIs to try and locate the cause of the problem.
Eventually she was told that there was a clot on the hepatic vein, leading into her liver, and it was causing a blockage – a rare condition known as Budd-Chiari syndrome. It was caused by a combination of her auto-immune condition, which results in excessive bleeding, and the contraceptive pill which she was taking for menstrual problems.
Two attempts to surgically remove the clot here in Galway failed and Saranne was told she would have to go to Dublin’s St Vincent’s Hospital, or possibly to Birmingham for further treatment.
That was late August, by which time the pain had abated. Because she didn’t display all the symptoms of the condition, and since her liver was still functioning, she was sent home. But she knew this was a temporary respite and by late October, the pain returned. In addition, her stomach started swelling up and she became very sick.
In November Saranne was sent to St Vincent’s for a non-surgical procedure known as TIPS which creates new connections to the veins serving the liver. Had it succeeded, it would have removed the need for surgery.
The procedure was delayed when she got an infection, so it didn’t take place until three weeks later. During that time, she kept hearing the specialists say that TIPS would solve her problems “if” it worked. She didn’t dwell too much on what would happen if it didn’t.
Her mother, Patricia, spent most of her time with Saranne – fortunately for her daughter, she was a nurse and understood most of what was going on. They were lucky in that Patricia is originally a Dubliner and could stay in her family home. Saranne’s father, Gerry, was also there but he found it especially tough, she recalls.
The first thing Saranne asked when she woke up after the TIPS procedure was ‘did it work?’ only to be told it hadn’t.
“There was a nurse at the end of my bed preparing her notes, so I thought this is bad,” Saranne recalls.
By now it was early December and she was very sick. Her liver and kidneys had started to fail, because all the other veins in her liver had also clotted. She was moved to Intensive Care where she was put on a dialysis machine and fed via a tube.
On the third of December, 2011, Saranne’s specialist told her she needed a liver transplant. She asked how long she’d be in hospital waiting for this and was told it could be “days, weeks or months”.
“By then I was too sick to care and I said ‘do whatever’,” she says.
For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.
Galway poet’s new chapter as debut novel hits the shops
“I hated school so much I thought if I could be a teacher, I could make it a bit better,” says novelist and poet Elaine Feeney about her day-job as an English and History teacher at St Jarlath’s College in Tuam.
The Athenry woman certainly has made it livelier and more relevant. Her students who were studying Hamlet for this year’s Leaving Cert departed from the text to give the troubled prince psychotherapy sessions, with different boys taking on the roles of Hamlet and the therapist as they explored the plot. Elaine laughs as she recalls how they got totally caught up in it. There’s always an entry point to good writing, she says, adding that she loves Shakespeare – in part because of the soap opera element to his drama.
“You can compare it to the latest episode of EastEnders”.
The Handmaid’s Tale by contemporary Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood is also on the curriculum. Her novel might seem more relevant to the boys, especially given its global success since being adapted for television. When Elaine learned that Atwood would be visiting Galway in early March this year for a Galway 2020 event, she asked the organisers if it would be possible for the class to meet her and discuss her work. That’s what happened and 25 young men in their school blazers spent three hours discussing the novel with Atwood.
Elaine lectures in Creative Writing at NUIG and has been involved in the university’s project archiving the stories of the survivors of Tuam’s Mother and Baby home. So, watching her students engage with a woman whose books deal with the misuse of power and oppression of women was a great moment.
It’s an example of how far she’ll go to give the students the best preparation for exams and for life. Elaine has a great relationship with them, something she’ll miss next year as she takes a career break to promote her own novel, As You Were, published by UK company Harvill Secker.
Read the full interview with Elaine Feeney in this week’s Connacht Tribune.
Live album looks after those who make it real
Anyone who has seen Mick Flannery play live will know that the Corkman doesn’t embrace the spotlight with both arms. There is a sincerity to what he does – his reluctance to operate as any sort of frontman is only outweighed by passion for his craft.
His shows are intimate and they’re backed up by a studio-quality sound and a genuine engagement between artist and audience. It is what happens when someone who doesn’t like talking about themselves ends up pouring their heart out on stage.
It is fitting, then, that Mick’s new album revolves around the people around him. All of the proceeds for Alive – Cork Opera House 2019, the singer-songwriter’s first live LP, will be shared among members of his band and crew who have lost work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s a major gesture from a modest talent and Mick is quick to point out that the album reflects just how much he owes to those that share his stage.
“I’m glad that it’s there as a tribute to them,” he says of the album. “I think Alan Comerford had a great gig that night on electric guitar with the solos that he played. Matthew Berrill was on the brass and he did some lovely stuff.
“There’s a few of the lads in the band who have music as their sole income. It’s not always easy to do that. It’s constantly booking gigs in bars around the place and that but it’s what they do and it’s what they have a passion for. They’ve worked hard to do what they love for a living and now these circumstances have taken that away.
“I have a kind of area to pivot – I can start writing songs and preparing albums whereas for the crew, without the live gigs their skillset is not being used at all… Lighting engineers and sound engineers, riggers, people that have built up PA companies over the years and small venues as well.”
For full interview, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.
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Arts Festival is still giving it socks!
“This is not a July festival as people know it, moved forward. It’s a different creature” says Artistic Director of Galway Arts Festival Paul Fahy about the organisation’s ‘Autumn Edition’ which is being held in reality and virtually in September and October following the cancellation of the July 2020 Festival due to Covid-19.
The aim is to bring live audiences into performances in a safe way, “to re-ignite that spark between live art and audience”, while also using digital platforms to reach those who might not be able to attend live events due to Covid-19.
He’s understandably excited about Mirror Pavilion, a major installation by artist John Gerrard commissioned by the Festival for Galway 2020 European Capital of Culture.
It will launch in Galway City’s Claddagh Quay on September 3, and will also be in Derrigimlagh Bog in North Connemara for October.
Gerrard is known for spectacular, large scale outdoor works such as Western Flag in California’s Coachella Desert and this work will be one of the largest outdoor installations ever in Ireland.
It will consist of three walls and a roof made of reflective glass while the fourth wall is an LED screen.
Two new artworks will be presented in the Pavilion; Corn Work at Claddagh Quay and Leaf Work at Derrigimlagh.
These connect with their specific setting, with Corn Work reflecting the power of the River Corrib and the many mills and industries it powered in bygone days.
Leaf Work, in the vast spaces of Derrigimlagh is a lament for the environmental damage that’s been caused to the world in the past century.
See full line-up and story in this week’s Connacht Tribune.