HER CHIC, cream outfit and refined grace saw her walk away with the Most Stylish Lady title on Derby Day at the Curragh, but behind her exquisite attire and broad smile, Lorraine O’Sullivan was wrestling with a hidden pain.
The former model suffers with a debilitating illness, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and last Saturday was a rare day out for the Dooradoyle resident who has to endure chronic pain and fatigue.
“It was nice to just forget about it for a few hours. It was a nice distraction. I would have been in the same amount of pain at home. The excitement and adrenalin got me through it,” explained the 30-year-old former air hostess who was deemed to be the fairest of them all at the 150th Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby on Saturday.
Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is a disorder that affects the connective tissues — primarily the skin, joints and blood vessel walls. A simple task like rolling over in bed or even making a cup of tea are just two of the daily risks that can result in dislocating a joint.
To ensure that she would be able for all the hustle and bustle that Derby Day brings, Lorraine attended the Curragh last month as a sort of a “dry run”.
Apart from her two days out at the races, Lorraine can’t remember the last time she got glammed up.
“Chronic pain is there all the time - 24/7 and then the acute pain can stem from whatever it is that day whether a joint has come out of place - a dislocation, or I get very severe Hemiplegic migraines that leave me with weakness - I get muscular weakness as well.”
Long periods of time on her feet can also take their toll on her body.
“It is the next day more especially you feel it because you have a recovery day for your body,” she points out.
“Standing for long periods of time is something that I don’t do very often. It’s just the nature of my condition that if I stand for too long it causes problems.”
Lorraine ensured she had her flat shoes with her in her handbag to reduce any risk of injury at the races.
“I wouldn’t wear heels anymore at all. I brought flats to change into straight away even when I was in there. I have very delicate sensitive skin, fatigue, chronic pain and unstable joints. It has affected me in terms of what I can do. I suppose it means all the more to me to win something like that – it is a huge boost for me.”
Lorraine’s enviable prize worth €20,000 includes a trip to Dubai, courtesy of Dubai Duty Free, five nights in the five-star Jumeirah Creekside, diamonds from Boodles and a stay at the Marker Hotel in Dublin. The judges knew nothing of her illness.
Due to her health condition, the statuesque brunette who was named Miss Photogenic in the local heat of the Miss Ireland competition in 2007 had to give up her careers as an air hostess and model as they were taking a physical toll on her body.
“It was because of my health I had to finish modelling with Celia [Holman-Lee]but I wasn’t diagnosed at that stage. When I was doing shows my feet used to be in absolute agony so I had to give it up because of my health. Celia was genuinely delighted with my win on Saturday.”
Lorraine - who was inspired by her late mother Mary’s sense of style - took the judges’ breath away in her crisp, cream dress from The Ivory Closet and pillbox hat which she made herself. “They mentioned that what stood out for them was that I had done a take on vintage - it was kind of a ‘50s-style. The dress which I got from The Ivory Closet here in Limerick got so many compliments which was great. I actually only finished making the hat that morning. I was out the back spraying it and hoping that the rain would hold off because I didn’t know if it was waterproof.”
Lorraine’s mother Mary (McCarthy) was a successful model in her day. Sadly she passed away in 1999.
“She would have been thrilled and loved to have seen all the style there on Saturday. I have had some of her clothes reworked and tailored by Zip Yard in Limerick, so I get to wear them – her sense of style doesn’t seem to ever go out of fashion.”
Lorraine was accompanied at the Curragh by her husband Darragh O’Sullivan, from Dooradoyle.
To toast her big win, she enjoyed a glass of champagne but the free bar was somewhat wasted on her as she couldn’t indulge too much due to the medication she is on. “I don’t think I needed too much else to heighten the excitement,” she smiled.
Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is a multi-system disorder which means that other conditions arise from it. Lorraine attends doctors both here and in London to manage the illness.
“It’s a rare condition – I do know one or two people with it. I try to keep my spirits up. I was relieved to get a diagnosis because I was misdiagnosed for a long time which was very frustrating. Once I was diagnosed it was a case of ‘OK, how are we going to deal with it?’
“I have to go to hospital next week. I have to be admitted from time to time – that’s all part of it. They manage the symptoms here but the condition can only be treated in London. I have been to London and I also have doctors in Dublin.”
While her illness means she is unable to work, Lorraine remains busy and is determined that her condition doesn’t define her.
“My interests and my hobbies are still there, it’s just a case of how often I can do them.
“I love to paint and I have started a blog as a hobby. The internet is a fabulous thing – it is a great outlet for blogs, interests and friends, so I don’t feel too disconnected.
And her Cocker Spaniel, named Puppy, she says, is a constant source of entertainment. “She is glued to me and is just the best therapy,” she smiled.