By Barry Lord @
“Life is pain” is a common assertion.
Sufferers of rheumatism would doubtless endorse this sentiment and for Anne Marie Healy, physical pain is a reality of daily life, but her refusal to allow it to impede her hopes and aspirations is surely an inspiration to others in the same position.
Anne was born into a family of sixteen children (six girls and 10 boys) in the rural village of Ballinaboy in North County Mayo. She was a normal, happy child, full of play, discovering the world, but at age five, her health took a worrying turn.
“My parents noticed I was very tired a lot of the time,” remembered Anne. “They brought me to the local doctor, who diagnosed rheumatic fever and after this I had a lengthy stay in hospital.”
Anne and her family assumed that after a long spell of care and attention life would return to normal and Anne would be the active child she was before, but this was not the case.
“I was constantly tired and could not play with my friends as I had no energy,” said Anne. “My hands and neck were extremely sore and stiff. I had to take regular medication for severe pain. I continued to attend primary school despite my pain.”
When there was no further improvement, Anne’s parents continued in their efforts to find a prognosis.
“My parents brought me to see the doctor again and he referred me to a consultant, who diagnosed juvenile rheumatoid arthritis,” said Anne.
“In rheumatoid arthritis the immune system attacks the joints.
“The attack can go on for a long time or come and go.
“If left untreated it can cause severe damage to the joints.”
After admittance to hospital and further tests, Anne and her family were given assurances that she would “grow out” of her arthritis because it was just a “bad flare up”.
However, this diagnosis proved incorrect and the effects of the condition would impact seriously on the practicalities of daily life.
“I attended secondary school in the all Irish school called Colaiste Chomain in Rossport, County Mayo,” explained Anne. “The rest of my family went to the convent and vocational schools in Belmullet, but this option was not open to me as I would not have been able to walk to the bus stop.”
Soon Anne required more treatment and despite some improvement, the benefits of continuous surgery were yet to be felt.
I was referred to a consultant orthopaedic surgeon in Merlin Park. The consultant told my parents that I needed corrective surgery. It came as a bit of a shock to my parents as I was only 15 years at the time. He re-assured them that it was going to be a success and not to worry. I had the surgery on my right hand. I returned to school and now was able to write without experiencing pain. Little did I know that this was going to be the first of many surgeries
All in all, Anne has had over 40 surgeries including having both hips, knees, shoulders and elbow replacements as well as neck and foot surgeries.
Since joining the Centre for Independent Living in Mayo and being provided with a personal assistant, Anne has enjoyed a quality of life she could not have imagined.
“This was such a necessary provision as without the support of people to help with Independent living (including supports with personal needs and mobility) I would not have been able to live life to the fullest.”
Being physically active is a huge part of Anne’s life but mental activity is just as important and to that end, Anne has used the power of the pen to express her thoughts on paper.
Anne also currently presents a programme entitled ‘Community Matters’ on her local radio station every Friday, where she gets to interview many interesting people from the Community.
“I cannot see a cure for rheumatoid arthritis ahead but I am positive that I can continue to live a full life,” concluded Anne.
“If I had a million euros to spend I would not want to change my life.”