FEATURE:

Laois mother waits for a new heart, her children's hugs, and an end to Covid-19

Lynda Kiernan

Reporter:

Lynda Kiernan

Laois mother waits for a new heart, her children's hugs, and an end to Covid-19

Portarlington mother Denise Geoghegan in her hospital bed in the Mater Cardiac Unit, Dublin.

Life during the Covid-19 lockdown is tough on everyone, whether working or confined at home, but for one Portarlington mother of three it is unbelievably difficult.

Denise Geoghegan, 39, is confined to a hospital room in Dublin, unable to see her children, and unable to leave unless she gets a life saving heart transplant.

Her ordeal began last Christmas when she became unwell and was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, transferred from Portlaoise hospital to St James’ and then the Mater hospital.

She has been in the cardiac unit there for the past two months.

Life had already been a nightmare for her before Covid-19 happened.
Denise was barely allowed to leave the ward, to prevent infection and to monitor her as she is on strong medication to keep her heart beating.

It was difficult for her husband Emmet to bring their children Curtis, 20, Corey, 15, and Caeden, 7, up to see her, as he juggled work in Dublin, getting home for homework and meals and then trips back to see Denise in the evening.

Her parents Concepta and Thomas Lyons were travelling up from Portarlington every second day to visit her and keep her spirits up.
Their families helped with bringing over meals and caring for the boys.

The Portarlington community also rallied around and began a gofundme account and fundraisers to support the family in their time of need.

All the while, Denise tried to stay positive and focus on getting a new heart and getting home. One heart became available, ironically on St Valentine’s Day, the very day she was put on the transplant list.

However, she was not well enough and it was given to another patient and Denise continued to wait.
Then Covid-19 hit and it made everything harder.

Since early March, Denise is not allowed to leave her room, except to go to the bathroom. She cannot have visitors, other than her husband Emmet who travels up daily for a half hour visit.

She hasn’t seen her three children in six weeks, and that is her greatest stress.
“I feel like I’m cracking. I have been suffering with anxiety for the last few weeks, in my stomach. If I could see my kids I might be alright but I just can’t,” she said.

Her phone and laptop are her lifelines to them.
“Caeden rings to Facetime me first thing in the morning, in the afternoon and then when he is going to bed. He just doesn’t understand, he keeps asking when am I coming home. He gets upset all the time,” she said.

She Facetimes the other two boys throughout the day. Her eldest son is working in the Spar shop in Portarlington and studying remotely with Carlow IT.

“I am very proud of him, he is working so hard, and at least it gets him out of the house. Corey is in Junior Cert year and that is cancelled but he is doing schoolwork at home. Normally they are all busy with soccer and football,” she said.

Everyone else is in lockdown to minimise the risk of bringing Covid-19 to the cardiac unit with Emmett.
“Before this they had help from our families but now they can’t help,” she said.

She is missing her parents as well.
“We talk every day, they could ring me five times a day. Nobody has any news, it’s not just me. It’s so strange,” she said.

Denise's sons back at home in Portarlington; Corey, Curtis and Caeden with her husband Emmett.

All the while Denise is waiting for the news that a heart has become available and is a match for her.
“I only got that one offer in February, nothing else came in that was suitable. There are offers of hearts but I assume with Covid that they have to be extra careful.

“It’s the whole uncertainty. Before this life had a bit of structure, now that’s all gone.

Her days are long and every one is the same.
“I get up, I shower, I come back, just Netflix is all I have. I’m starting to watch the same shows twice over. My concentration is gone, I loved reading but now I read one page and I forget it. Before Covid I could go down to the café with my drips for a coffee,” Denise said.

It has had a big impact on her.
“I feel like I’m being smothered, the windows are too high to even see out of, it feels like a prison. Every day is like the one day. What I wouldn’t do to be able to go for a walk.

The good news is that other than her heart Denise is healthy.
“The drug I am on helps the heart pump but it can make other organs start to fail, but they are checking and all my other organs are fine. But I can’t go home when I’m on this drug,” she said.

She gets a visit from a physiotherapist and a psychologist weekly to help keep her body and mind strong.
“They are talking about getting an exercise bike in my room. That would be something,” she said.

“Emmett comes at about 5pm, he brings me a bit of food instead of the hospital food. He can’t stay that long. The boys panic when he leaves. It’s the kids ultimately that I want to see. Caeden is constantly drawing me pictures and cards. I used to do homework with him, now it’s just so hard, it’s torture," she said.

“The staff are great, they are like my family now and I can talk to them,” she said.

It is much quieter than normal in the cardiac unit and it actually has spare beds. Denise can’t go out to meet any other patients anyway.
While the Mater has a high number of Covid-19 patients, there is no virus in the Cardiac Unit and staff are careful to keep it that way.

“The nurses here wouldn’t go down to the other units,” Denise said.

Another negative effect of Covid was the cancellation of Organ Donor Awareness Week in Ireland.

“That would have been a great help because they get a lot of offers of organs after that week,” she said.

She was following the progress of the pandemic until it became too much.
“I was till a week ago and I stopped. It was just consuming me. It is a very scary time,” Denise said.

She again thanks everyone in Portarlington where fundraisers are still ongoing to help the family, with over €16,500 donated since February.

“The town has been brilliant. Dunnes Pharmacy held a coffee morning and Port Rugby Club held a quiz night, a few other things had to be cancelled. Money would be a worry, Emmett is not working now, he is a core driller and he was working on the children’s hospital but that is closed for now.

Denise has asked people for a very special effort to stick to the coronavirus restrictions.

“I urge people to consider organ donation, and to please stick to the Covid-19 rules to get over this as soon as possible,” she said.
The fundraiser to support Denise and her family is here. 

For more information on signing up to be an organ donor, see the Irish Kidney Asociation's website at www.ika.ie

Below: Denise with her family.