Dundalk woman Maureen McKeown has been recognised for her outstanding contributions to Cystic Fibrosis Ireland at the charity's annual conference which was held in the Crowne Plaza earlier this month.
It's a subject that is close to Maureen's heart. She set up the Dundalk Branch in the late 1970's after her daughter, Adele, passed away from Cystic Fibrosis in the week leading up to Christmas of 1964. Tragically Adele was just short of her fifth birthday.
L-r Dorothy Watters, Ann O Carroll, Adie O'Hagan, Maureen McKeown, Philip Watt, Professor McElvanney at the Cystic Fibrosis Ireland conference held in the Crowne Plaza recently.
Cystic Fibrosis is an inherited chronic disease that primarily affects the lungs and digestive system. Approximately 1,300 children and adults are affected by CF in Ireland today and 70,000 people around the world are currently living with the condition.
Speaking to the Dundalk Democrat, Maureen told how people had very little understanding of the condition back when her daughter was diagnosed in the 1960's.
“In my day, we didn't know what the doctors were talking about. When I was told that Adele had Cystic Fibrosis, the short life expectancy didn't register with us. We just blanked it out,” Maureen explained.
Around 15 years later, the Dundalk woman saw an ad in the Dundalk Democrat about a Cystic Fibrosis information evening which was coming to the Imperial Hotel and decided to attend in order to get some answers on her own daughters tragic passing.
Armed with information, Maureen decided to found the Dundalk Branch of CF Ireland with herself as the secretary and her friend Theresa Donnelly as the treasurer. Maureen says it was a “small enough branch” with “about 9 or 10 people coming to us”.
The pair set about gathering information and providing support to families affected by the condition in the local area. They also worked tirelessly to raise money through fundraising days.
Mrs. McKeown said: “Myself and Theresa started trying to help. We would raise money to cover expenses for hospital trips. Whatever we could help with. Everything else we had left over was donated to research.”
Thankfully, today advances in research and medical treatments, have enhanced the life expectancy for children and adults with CF. Many Irish people living with the condition can now expect to live into their 30's or 40's.
“There's great hope now. Back in the 1960's, we were told the life expectancy was seven years old,” said Maureen.
“At the conference this year I saw people with Cystic Fibrosis who had lung transplants. We also saw adults speaking at the conference who are married and have families. It's great to see them looking so well and healthy. The advances in medication and physio are fantastic.”
After more than 40 years at the helm of the Dundalk CF branch, Maureen says she is delighted to hand the reins over to Ravensdale woman Marie Gallagher.
And looking back on her 40-year legacy Maureen says that friends and family have been brilliant in terms of providing support and helping out with fundraising for the Dundalk CF branch.
However, she thinks that the Government needs to provide more funding to support those currently living with CF in Ireland.
“I would die happy if a cure was found,” Maureen concluded.
See www.cfireland.ie or contact Marie Gallagher at the Dundalk branch on 086 825 9656.