Giving thanks

Living

‘I’M GREAT NOW’ Andy Durkan, who won his battle with acute myeloid leukaemia after receiving bone marrow from a donor from Spain or Portugal. Pic: Conor McKeown

Louisburgh man’s gratitude for survival prompts Easter fundraiser  

Michael Gallagher

It’s Louisburgh, it’s sunny, and if perfection had been bottled by the Great Spirit in the Sky, then it had just been uncorked and spread across this special place on the edge of the ocean. Andy Durkan has just returned from his second walk of the pristine morning and the aroma of freshly baked scones is wafting across the kitchen where his wife, Janet, wears a smile as broad as Clew Bay.
Andy is a proud son of Louisburgh and well-known in many corners of the planet. He ran the family shop on Main Street for decades, was the Personnel Manager in Allergan Pharmaceuticals in Westport for half a lifetime and is just a jovial, good guy. He carries around a smile that warms the heart and a sense of hospitality and honour handed down for generations, and it’s no different on this occasion.
However, behind the smile there’s a story waiting to be told. A story of a fight to live; a fight to survive and a fight to see Louisburgh again. It’s a great story, and Durkan is a great story-teller, but he’s also a man who always gives thanks for the ups and downs of life.

Spreading joy
Andy and Janet have had their share of roller-coaster moments. They spread joy wherever they go and they’ve also had tough times, but they never forget gratitude. They lost their beloved son Alan some years ago, but he lives in every aspect of their lives. When both talk of him and his brother, James, it’s as if they’re there in the kitchen. James is actually in Kilkenny when The Mayo News calls to the family home, but one can almost picture himself and Alan bouncing around the house.
Janet had her own battle with cancer some years ago. She survived, but that wasn’t good enough – she had to give thanks, and so initiated what became known as ‘Janet’s Walk’, raising much needed funds for Mayo Cancer Support Association and Louisburgh Order of Malta. The Durkans always give thanks.
It will be the same next Sunday when Andy gives thanks for coming through his battle with cancer. The couple and their friends and neighbours will host an Easter Fair in Louisburgh Town Hall with proceeds going to Bone Marrow for Leukaemia Trust.
It promises to be a day of days in the coastal town and make no mistake – fun will be had.

‘Whole new DNA’
Soon, the scones and butter and jam spread on top. The tea is strong and perfect and it’s time to go on a trip that takes us from the kitchen table in Louisburgh to the edge of existence and takes in laughter, pain, amazing people and hope – there’s always hope.
“I’m great now thank God,” Andy explains as the conversation begins. “I actually have a whole new DNA – there’s not many Louisburgh men who can say that,” he adds, before explaining how his successful bone marrow transplant has given him a whole new identity (only technically).
The story starts with a trip to the local GP – a blood test showing a low white cell count, another blood test showing a lower white cell count – a trip to Galway and a phone call that caught him unawares.
“I was told if they found anything significant in Galway I’d get a phone call within days, but when almost two weeks passed I felt I was sound. Then, one day I was here in the kitchen, Janet was in Westport, and the phone rang. The consultant told me I had acute myeloid leukaemia and they needed me in Galway the next morning. I made the biggest mistake of my life when I got off the phone – I looked up Dr Google, and at the end of it I reckoned I might have five months to live. I picked Janet up in Westport that evening and told her the news.”

‘Just amazing’
The next few months were spent in Galway with the odd break back in Louisburgh, and Andy recounts that time as only he can.
Blocks of five injections into the tummy, in November and December 2020. He was then taken in for intensive chemotherapy in January 2021. Laps of the ward to ‘keep fit’, conversations and craic with the nurses, utter weakness from the treatment and never giving up hope. All recalled as another round of tea arrives.
“I was here on my own for the first time ever. It was lonely, and then it was lockdown too so I could hardly ever see him,” Janet explains. “To tell you the truth, I wasn’t as positive as he was, but I couldn’t let on,” she adds.
Long story short, the treatment in Galway prepared Andy, and he was good to a point, and he was strong enough and determined enough to be put on a waiting list for a life-saving bone-marrow transplant. Andy left UHG in June 2021 following excellent care and attention by all the staff in the Claddagh ward.
The next phase of his life would be spent in St James’s Hospital in Dublin. Tales of amazing people, life-giving nurses, fun and a fight for life decorate the Louisburgh kitchen for the next 30 minutes. In truth, Durkan could write a book – probably a series of books about his experiences in life.
Eventually, a donor was sourced, the Louisburgh man was ready. On July 12, 2021, the transplant took place. “It’s a bag of yellow stuff. It goes into your blood system and somehow works its way into the bones. It’s just amazing,” he explains.
The recovery was good, and some weeks later he was given temporary release to an apartment close by the hospital where he could be joined by his wife, his best friend, his everything.
“We had such plans. We were going to do so much, but we ended up doing very little because Andy was so weak. Then he had complications and had to go back for a week,” Janet continues.
“That was the only time I felt I might be checking out. There was a time during that week when I felt I was in the Departure Lounge, but I wasn’t afraid because I knew I’d see Alan again and he’d look after me,” Andy adds thoughtfully.
‘My Sam Maguire’
However, he came through. “I will never forget the wonderful staff of the Claddagh ward in Galway and Burkitt’s ward in St James’s Hospital,” he says, with gratitude. He was soon back in the apartment again, and some weeks later he was coming through Murrisk on past Lecanvey and Louisburgh came into sight.
“That was my All-Ireland, my Sam Maguire. To see Louisburgh again after 12 weeks in St James’s was the greatest thrill. I’ll never forget it.”
Another thing Andy will never forget is the donor whose generosity gave the Louisburgh man new life. Some of our lives are indebted to people we don’t know.
“I go into the church every single day to give thanks for everything, and I say a prayer for the young man from Spain or Portugal who gave me this new chance at life,” he said. “That’s why we’re running the event on Sunday, to raise funds for the Bone Marrow for Leukaemia Trust and give something back, because you never know when any of us need help.”
Andy is also very grateful for all the help, prayers, candles, masses and more from all our friends and neighbours, and to all the ladies from Janet’s walk committee, who are organising the fundraiser on Easter Sunday.

MORE
To find out more about the Bone Marrow for Leukaemia Trust, visit www.bonemarrowtrust.ie. To make a donation to the Louisburgh fundraiser, visit www.idonate.ie/JanetDurkan.