COURAGEOUS former cathaoirleach, Mary Harty, has vowed to keep representing her constituents for as long as she can while she battles motor neurone disease.
Cllr Harty has spoken for the first time about the terminal illness which Colm Murray has highlighted. Only 200 to 250 people in Ireland have the incurable disease.
Last April, she welcomed President Michael D Higgins to County Hall as cathaoirleach, now the disease has left her confined to a wheelchair and her speech impaired.
“I can’t walk now, I couldn’t lift that,” said Cllr Harty, pointing to a beaker in her Pallasgreen home.
“My hands and my legs are very badly affected. My speech is a big loss. My symptoms have come on very fast.
“Some people only get a year, other people get 10 years - the average is around two and a half to three. We’re not thinking about that end of it,” said the brave county councillor.
She first began to experience symptoms last March - a weakness in her right leg and feeling stiff and sore all over.
As she was combining teaching in Nicker National School and being cathaoirleach she put it down to exhaustion. But as she got weaker and weaker she sought medical attention.
After many referrals with specialists she was diagnosed with motor neurone disease on October 23.
“I have to deal with it, I have to get on with it. I was in shock for six to eight weeks I couldn’t believe it, it didn’t seem to make sense,” said Cllr Harty.
She describes it as when the nerve endings in your body don’t send messages to muscles. “So your body doesn’t work because the nerve endings cease to work. They are not able to send messages from the brain to the muscles, you gradually seize up,” said Cllr Harty.
Despite her health, Cllr Harty has hardly missed an electoral area meeting and plans to continue being a councillor.
“I still come to the meetings. I hope to continue, with this disease it is day to day, week to week.
“My symptoms have been very fast. Not everyone is affected as quickly as I am, nevertheless I have to get on with it.
“As Michael Noonan said to me the other day ‘drive on’. Enda Kenny rang me as well. I’m hopeful, what will be will be,” said Cllr Harty, who is only speaking to the Leader about her condition because the local community have organised a charity 5k walk on Saturday, February 23.
All the funds will go to Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association who have supported her as she doesn’t have a medical card.
“I don’t want to run down the HSE, the primary care team have been fantastic - physio, nurses and the doctor - as well as my carers. Because I don’t have a medical card I can’t get equipment from the HSE. “Obviously in my current condition I need a lot of support by means of equipment. The Motor Neurone Disease Association has supplied me with everything, shower chair, riser recliner, riser recliner bed, equivalent for the bathroom. Anything I’ve needed. They are bringing me a motorised wheelchair during the week,” she said.
As well as Cllr Harty’s medical care she has got huge support from her family, friends and the parish of Pallasgreen/Templebraden.
As she spoke to the Leader her post came and there were a number of best wishes cards. “Everyone has been so good. I want to give something back to the charity that have been so good to me,” she said.
Last Friday, over a 100 attended a meeting after PP O’Sullivan and PJ Quirke decided to organise a 5k walk. It will commence at 2pm from Pallasgreen community centre on Saturday, February 23.
There will be a bucket collection and sponsorship cards available from Joanne Beary on 086 1659774.
“Mary is such an icon in the community,” said Ms Beary, who is hoping for a massive crowd.