DESCRIBED as an “inspiration” by broadcaster Ryan Tubridy during her appearance on The Late Late Show last November, a Lahinch woman is proving that blindness is no barrier to new challenges. Áine Mae O’Mahony, who is only one of 13 patients nationwide on a waiting list for a new pancreas and kidney, is manager of Kilkee-based Raidió Corca Baiscinn (RCB).
Despite restrictions imposed by travelling to Galway for fours hours of dialysis three times a week and managing diabetes, the Fighting Blindness advocate lives life to the full and believes her glass is always half-full rather than half-empty.
If Áine Mae is fortunate enough to receive a new pancreas, it would be life-changing, as she would no longer need to take injections four times a day or to check her sugar levels constantly. As there are serious health complications from having Type One diabetes since childhood, her doctor felt she would be eligible for a new pancreas.
In November 2015, she started dialysis three times a week in the Wellstone Clinic in Galway, which involves leaving Liscannor at 5.30am to go on the machine at 7.30am, for about four hours, before returning home. It is further complicated by the fact that she works in Kilkee, 42 kilometres from her home.
“It is good to have a challenge in life. I do hope to get a kidney transplant at some stage. The dialysis is keeping me alive but the ultimate goal would be to have a transplant. I have my bags packed and I am ready to go whenever I get that phone call.
“I am still grateful that I have my legs and that I have work. While I was tired when I started out on dialysis, I got more used to it and it becomes part of your routine and your life,” she explains.
Urging people to carry an organ donor card, she also requests people to speak to their families about organ donation, as the decision to donate organs can transform many recipients’ lives.
Áine’s health issues first manifested when she was just eight years old. She felt tired, had no energy and was frequently very thirsty, slept a lot, was losing weight and had no appetite. In December 1989, Áine’s mother took her to a local GP, who referred her to University Hospital Limerick (UHL) for tests, which diagnosed that she had diabetes.
Still in hospital on Christmas Eve, Áine recalls that she was not able to eat all the sweets she had planned eating during that festive season.
Registered blind, Áine knows the difference between darkness and light but cannot distinguish different shapes and everything now seems to be a light grey.
She was 25 when she lost her sight. At first, she noticed she was having problems with her eyes and had difficulty reading road signs. In February 2007, she was admitted to UHL for treatment, before travelling to England to complete a successful operation for a detached retina.
The loss of her sight resulted in the closure of her own business – a café in Ennistymon – two years after it had opened, which was very upsetting.
“In the beginning, there was denial because I had my eyesight a few days before it went and now I don’t so I felt it was going to come back. I chose to live my life independently. Frustration would be part of not having your sight but everyone gets frustrated. I wouldn’t get any more frustrated than anyone else.
“You get used to an area, a place and where you are leaving things. Your memory gets better. The only time there is frustration is if you walk into something.
“When I sat down and thought about what I wanted to do, I always wanted to work in radio. I thought, ‘wouldn’t it be great if I could be computer savvy’,” she said.
In 2008, having contacted the Irish Council for the Blind for assistance, she completed an ECDL distance learning course with their National Learning Network (NLN) over a two-year period.
Áine, as a blind person, learned different key strokes to perform certain functions and how to place stickers over some key functions that she recognises by touch. She also has a software screen reader package that tells her what she is using and what she has typed at a particular time.
In September 2009, she benefited from training and work experience in Raidió Corca Baiscinn (RCB) community radio station in Kilkee, which culminated in a job as a radio producer two years later.
During a break from the station, she learned new skills working as a temporary constituency secretary for Senator Martin Conway for six months.
Subsequently, Áine heard the position of station manager was up for grabs at Raidió Corca Baiscinn.
In July 2014, she became station manager at RCB, which employs 15 full-time staff members – five community staff, three TUS, six Pobal and one internship, as well as 80 volunteers in total.
“RCB has a very solid team and good trainers. I am really proud of everyone who works in the station. We all support each other. It is good fun,” she says.
Her promotion proved to be the proverbial ‘baptism of fire’, as it coincided with a period when the future of the station appeared to be under threat, due to national cutbacks.
However, the possibility of closure in December 2014 was averted, thanks to the submission of a new business plan.
“You know something is working when you see young teenagers coming in the door and then leaving a few years later for college. There used to be a few lads hanging around outside the radio station, doing nothing. They thought it was only something for other kids. We asked the lads to come in and check it out. They did and learned so many technical skills and they have now gone on to college.
“The volunteers that come in can avail of FETAC/QQI qualifications, as part of courses. People can come into the station and have their own radio programme or upskill to become a technician or get involved in fundraising.
“The radio station is 90% community and 10% radio. It is a community project. RCB make documentaries for the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland, which are funded projects,” she concluded.
By Dan Danaher