'There isn’t a medicine out there that does what ye do for me'

Life changed for Mags O’Donoghue in 2009 when she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. The Ballysteen woman had spent around a year in bed not knowing what was happening to her body as she struggled to even get the energy to get into a shower and then back to bed. In her mind this was the end of the road so she was relieved to finally receive a diagnosis but life would never be the same for her.

Mags also suffers with spondylosis in her spine, left hip impingement, skin conditions but the hardest of all is fibromyalgia. Speaking about her diagnosis Mags says ‘the consultant Dr Brian Whelan Rhemotologist who diagnosed me informed me it was one of the highest pain cases he had ever seen. I was just qualified as a nurse with my career ahead of me but a left swab after getting my appendix out meant I got MRSA and this was the effect.’ Mags was unable to practice as a nurse and went on to qualify as a dental nurse but again was forced to opt out of this role as she lost her grasp as part of the condition.

Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterised by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. Researchers believe that the condition amplifies painful sensations by affecting the way your brain processes pain signals but Mags overcomes all this in her everyday life.

In her own words, ‘I was told I would be unable to have children but against all odds I have amazing identical twin boys, Brandon and Cody, and they are two little red headed bundles of curiosity and mischief but always by my side and a joy for my husband and I.’ Under the care of Professor Dominic Harmon, Mags continues to defy odds and she cannot praise him and his team enough for the care they have given her. ‘The Professor gave me tools to get going and urged me to go and do it for the boys’ stressed a very resilient Mags, ‘he encouraged me to keep active but I don’t think he meant running around a pitch at the time. His words stuck with me when he said that I couldn’t undo what was done to me but I could go and make sure I lived a life.’

Mags of course is referring to her involvement in the Gaelic4Mothers&Others Programme from the Ladies Gaelic Football Association which is rolled out locally with the Askeaton Ballysteen Cappagh group. Mags arrives to the weekly training with her two sidekicks and for that hour she forgets about the pain because of the sport but more importantly because of the team, the fun, the off the ball conversations and the key to it all – the friendships. Those sessions are summed up by Mags herself ‘What those girls do for you is amazing. I can be at home and really struggle to even get into the car but when I get there it is just unbelievable for my mental health.’

The Limerick woman represented her county at underage for ladies gaelic but never did she think she would see so many women who haven’t played in years but also many who have never played before take to the pitch in the local club. ‘We are playing now 3 or 4 years and to see the improvements in the women involved is remarkable and Gaelic4Mothers&Others is just brilliant to be involved in. Support groups can be depressing as people sit around complaining but this is my support group and everything is positive here and it keeps my joints moving.’

Since her involvement in the programme Mags has changed medications and remarkably is now only on some pain medication and it is extremely grateful to her pain specialist and pain nurses in Limerick Regional Hospital for the support they have given her despite thinking she may have been a bit mad at the start getting involved playing football. Gaelic4Mothers&Others is not only keeping her physically active but in an area with a serious suicide academic she sees this as essential for her mental health, ‘I could be sitting in the house feeling sorry for myself and cut off from life but for that hour I can forget, I am normal and those girls treat me normal. I have made unbelievable friendships and they will be my friends for life.’

It is difficult to see where Mags fits everything in and that is not her only role on the pitch as she also coaches the club under 6 boys team and gets great delight from the pride her boys show in her, ‘I love when the boys come home and talk about what mammy has taught them. I take them with me to my training and games and I am at theirs so it is something that we can do together which is really important to me.’

Mags is a remarkable woman and she hopes that stories like this can raise awareness and empower other women to realise that ‘they may have fibro but fibro doesn’t have them.’ As we finish off the conversation with Mags she is once again getting ready to pack her kit back and defy all odds to take to the football pitch with her Gaelic4Mothers&Others team mates… what a woman!

The Gaelic4Mothers&Others initiative is an innovative way to introduce mothers and other women to playing Ladies Gaelic Football. Mothers often drop their kids to training and call back to collect them, but the Ladies Gaelic Football Association wanted to change that.

The Gaelic4Mothers&Others initiative sees women playing Ladies Gaelic Football in a fun, non-competitive and social environment. Gaelic4Mothers&Others provides an opportunity for women to get their recommended weekly exercise in a fun way while meeting other mothers in the area.

The initiative has proved hugely popular with women of all ages and has taken off in all 32 counties with success stories popping up all over the country. Many of the women involved are now also volunteering in their local clubs.

For further information on Gaelic4Mothers&Others please contact the Ladies Gaelic Football Association on 01 8363156 or email info@lgfa.ie




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