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Making the most of his second chance


FAMILY FIRST Stephen Barrett with his parents Richard and Mary Barrett on his wedding day in July 2015. Stephen is fundraising for The National Brain Appeal charity in the UK, one year on from major brain surgery.

Marie Mangan

It was the winter of 2015 when Richard and Mary Barrett from Belmullet got a message no parent wants to hear.
Their son Stephen required major brain surgery and Richard and Mary flew over immediately to London to be with him in his hour of need.
Eighteen months later and Stephen’s life has been transformed. This Sunday he will run in the London Marathon, to raise money for the National Brain Appeal in the UK.
It’s his way of showing gratitude for the care he received at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London.
Stephen’s parents are from Belmullet - Richard from Shraigh and Mary from Binghamstown - and they raised their family in England before subsequently moving home in recent years.
Stephen (41) is a broadcast market analyst who lives in London with his wife Laura.
He underwent major brain surgery at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in December 2015 some weeks after experiencing a sudden and strong pain in his head whilst standing at the platform at London’s Finsbury Park tube station.
“It started as a pulsing sensation and very quickly became like a jack hammer pounding away in my head,” Stephen recalls.  
Not knowing what to do, and due to meet friends, Stephen attempted to carry on his journey. The sensation passed after about an hour.
Problems continued, however, and when his wife Laura returned from a business trip to find Stephen experiencing another sudden headache, she insisted he went to A&E. A very switched on doctor suspected something serious when Stephen explained that the headaches were brought on by exertion and arranged for him to have some brain scans.
Stephen had a colloid cyst, a rare benign growth, in the middle of his brain. The neurosurgeons at The National Hospital were amazed that Stephen was even conscious when they saw the degree of fluid build-up and pressure on his brain on the scans.
Given the seriousness of the situation, Stephen contacted his sister Gabrielle knowing that his parents Richard and Mary Barrett were staying with her at the time in Trim, Co Meath. She immediately booked flights for her and her parents to fly to London.
“As a mother, you want your children to be healthy and happy. When I heard that Stephen was going to have an operation on his brain I was in total shock. All I knew is that we needed to get to the hospital as soon as possible to be there with him,” said Mary Barrett.
Surgery to remove the cyst took place on December 1.
When he woke up after the operation, Stephen said he felt like a different person. It dawned on him that so many things he had been struggling with were side-effects caused by the cyst.
“Everything felt different, how I felt when I walked and talked. It was like I now had a wide-screen, high definition brain. So many things that had been causing me concern for years were a result of the colloid cyst. I thought the problems I was having, such as back pain, headaches and problems concentrating, were down to the ageing process. I was delighted to realise that they weren’t. It’s very hard to explain but I know now that the blockage in my brain caused by the cyst was producing physical sensations of compressing my experience of thought and movement.”
With that good news, Richard and Mary flew back to Ireland the next day but, two weeks later, they had to return when things took a frightening turn for the worst for Stephen.
He found himself back in the hospital after experiencing complications with cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) leaking from the wound and post-operative meningitis. He returned to the operating theatre four more times so the surgical team could try to tackle the infection and attempt to deal with the unexpected behaviour of the CSF, which still failed to drain normally.
To address that problem, a permanent shunt was inserted to drain the fluid. He was finally discharged on January 7, 2016. His recovery took time and he returned to work, part-time, in July.
Now, he is only days away from completing a marathon and making the most of his new life.

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