Happy 20th birthday for Limerick girl who defied death - twice

Donal O’Regan


Donal O’Regan

A smiling Aoife Fanning, from Pallasgreen, who celebrated her 20th birthday over Christmas
A COUNTY Limerick girl left her teenage years behind over the festive period – and what a journey it has been.

A COUNTY Limerick girl left her teenage years behind over the festive period – and what a journey it has been.

Aoife Fanning, Pallas-green, defied the odds to celebrate her 20th birthday with mum and dad, Ann and Jimmy and twin brothers, Darragh and Brian. Aoife was born on December 21, 1994 weighing just 760 grams.

“She could fit in the palm of your hand,” said her dad.

Sadly, her half-twin died and doctors didn’t hold out much hope for Aoife. Even nowadays, with more modern technology, her chances of survival would be slim, but this was two decades ago.

She had birth asphyxia and a respiratory condition called hyaline membrane disease and received intermittent positive pressure ventilation for 63 days. She was sent to Crumlin Hospital in January 1995 as her weight dropped back to 760 grams. As Aoife had a patent ductus arteriosus one of Ireland’s best known heart surgeons, the late Dr Maurice Nelligan, performed an operation to close a valve. Aoife returned to the Regional Hospital but to compound matters she contracted jaundice and had anaemia, requiring eight blood transfusions. After almost four months in hospital she was discharged on April 27, 1995 to her loving family.

Jimmy and Ann watched her grow up like any little girl but she wasn’t finished with near death experiences. Aoife started riding at five and was a natural on horseback. She rode in the Dublin Horse Show and joined the Scarteen Hunt. When she was 13 Aoife was thrown from her pony when he stumbled in a boggy piece of ground in Tipperary. The front feet of the horse coming behind went under her helmet, fracturing her skull.

Aoife swallowed her tongue and only for the fast actions of rugby legend Peter Clohessy she probably would have died. He removed her tongue from her throat so she could breathe and worked on her until the emergency services arrived.

She was taken to Clonmel Hospital before being transferred to Cork. When Aoife came around her first words were: “How is my pony Robbie?”

A few weeks after the accident her dad returned to Clonmel to say thank you. “The doctor said to me, ‘You were very calm that night’. I said, ‘I didn’t know the severity of the injury’,” said Jimmy, who can recall the doctor and nurse having a conversation but couldn’t hear what they were saying. He was lucky they were speaking in hushed tones.

“The doctor said, ‘I am glad to tell you – I’ve been wrong twice in my career and this was one. I said to the nurse there was no point in taking her to Cork, she isn’t going to make it’. But she is still here,” smiles Jimmy.

When she had recovered Aoife met Peter. “I spoke to him about what went on. I told him I am very grateful for what he did,” said Aoife, who enjoyed a quiet birthday with her family. But she wasn’t the only one to scare her parents.

“The twin boys got meningitis when they were nearly six and they nearly died,” said Jimmy. Now 18-year-old Darragh and Brian star on the hurling and rugby pitch with underage Limerick and Munster and Ireland teams respectively.

“In our house now unless you are dying no one takes any notice of you!” joked Jimmy.

A longer article on the Fannings features in the Gréan magazine.