Eoin Murphy

The late Noel Walsh, whom, according to Father Paschal Moore “was a great fighter who made the most of a very difficult situation”. | Photo: Eoin Murphy

First impressions certainly last and the late Noel Walsh made one hell of a first impression.

Immaculately dressed, never a hair out of place – fitting for a hairdresser – and always anxious to ask how you are (never mind how he was); the Fiddown native was a true force of nature.

Noel, who died on December 27th 2006, was a wonderful ambassador for positive thinking, someone that anyone who knew him felt humbled to know and all the better for knowing him.

Noel spent the vast majority of his 39 years aiming to better the lives of Cystic Fibrosis sufferers in the Republic.

That he was so selfless in the face of his own immense physical suffering, sadly never getting the lungs and heart he required for a new lease of life, made him an extraordinary man.

Noel once spoke about awaiting transfer to an operating theatre at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital, one of the leading transplant units in Britain – such procedures were not possible in the Republic during Noel’s lifetime.

Noel believed that that particular trip across the water would put him halfway towards a better life, as a heart that suited his compatibilities had been sourced.

Like the superb cardiac surgeons we’re fortunate to have in Blackrock, a patient could not wish to be in better hands than those at work in Newcastle. Alas, in the moments before Noel was due to be operated upon, the heart ‘died’, rendering it useless.

When he got home, he relayed what happened without an ounce of self-pity. Noel was never one for sob stories. He spent many days at homes in his bed, too weak to emerge from it, but again he never wallowed in his own situation.

In his wonderful mother Mary, Noel could have wished for no greater nurse, confidant or companion.

There were one or two things Noel was worried about before he died – and Mary topped the list. In his final, fading days, Noel told those by his bedside that “my mother should be canonised”. It wasn’t the first time in his life that Noel made the right observation.

Noel’s spirit and the lifetime of devotion that Mary gave to him as only a mother could, must not be in vain.

And thanks to Orla Tinsley, who has magnificently flown the CF flag over the past year and to Nuncie Murphy and her Carers’ Association colleagues in this region, Noel and Mary’s efforts shall not count for nothing.

Healthy people don’t have to concern themselves with using a toilet in Accident and Emergency. For a person with CF, using such a facility could cause serious infection and set back months of gradual improvement.

MRSA continues to lurk, making many with CF justifiably concerned about fulfilling a hospital appointment, a ludicrous situation in 21st century Ireland, arguably the worst offence that successive governments stand accused of.

There are currently 1100 people in the Republic with CF, the highest incidence in the world. If you have CF in our State, on average you live for 10 years less than our neighbours in Northern Ireland. That’s inexplicable.

Were it not for Orla Tinsley’s presence on RTE’s ‘Liveline’ recently, the health bureaucrats would surely cited the recession as a reason not to provide the long-promised specialised 34-bed CF unit at Saint Vincent’s Hospital.

But given the massive level of public support which Miss Tinsley’s radio presence generated, confirmation that the facility will now be operational by 2011 demonstrated that people power can truly achieve something.

Were he still alive, Noel Walsh would have been on the phone to Orla Tinsley to congratulate her and to ask was there anything he could do to keep the CF message out there.

The torch that Noel lit in life continues to be carried by remarkable people such as Orla Tinsley.

Those with CF and those who care for them deserve better than what they’ve got up to now and the Saint Vincent’s unit should only be seen as part of their ongoing campaign rather than a conclusion.

That’s the very least that the late Noel Walsh, his exceptional mother and thousands more across this country deserve.