Our 270,000 steps up Everest for Marymount

As Marymount University Hospital and Hospice in Cork marks its 150th anniversary this year, CHRIS DUNNE talks to families who experienced first hand the work they do
Our 270,000 steps up Everest for Marymount
A PROUD DAY: In October 2019, Gary Jordan, Ringaskiddy and Johnny Trihy, Waterford embarked on a journey to scale to Everest Base Camp in Nepal.

MENTION Marymount University Hospital and Hospice to anyone, anywhere, and it is clear hundreds of thousands of people in the Cork/ Kerry region and beyond support their amazing work.

Marymount is celebrating 150 years in 2020.

“I’m like the thousands of people, who, just at the mention of Marymount, are always delighted to support the hospice and the wonderful work they do,” says Pat Stacey, from Glanmire, who lost his wife, Chris, to cancer six years ago.

“It was a frightening and dark journey for us and for our three girls, made more bearable by the help of our good friends from our caring community, and by the fantastic support that Marymount Hospice offered us that is still continuing today. The hospice was like a jewel amidst the sorrow and the heartache.”

Derry O’Donovan, from Clonakilty, who lost his wife, Shelly, two years ago, shares Pat’s sentiments.

“Nine days before Shelly passed, she asked her beloved dad, Steve, to organise a fund-raiser for Marymount, where she had received tender loving care and where she passed away age 38,” says Derry.

A GREAT CAUSE: Gary Jordan and Johnny Trihy undertook the trip in memory of Johnny's sister Melissa.
A GREAT CAUSE: Gary Jordan and Johnny Trihy undertook the trip in memory of Johnny's sister Melissa.

The men-folk pulled out all the stops for Shelly and for Marymount, organising coffee mornings, car washes and Shelly’s Gala which took place last May.

“I got the lads together and we got going. We can’t praise Marymount Hospice enough,” says Derry, who can’t do enough for the hospice, raising thousands of euro helping maintain the excellent standards of services there.

“The nurse, doctors and carers were always there for Shelly and for us 24/7,” says Derry.

People live meaningful lives in Marymount Hospice, even where life expectancy is short. The life, heart and soul of the place evolve from the people, the patients.

“The staff at Marymount are truly amazing,” says Derry.

“From Paul at the door, to James at the shop, to Dr Marie Murphy, an unbelievable person, who has the job of looking after so many people and who has to deliver sad news once or twice every day. It takes a unique person to do that.”

It takes a unique duo to conquer the summit of Everest Base Camp too.

“When my friend Johnny’s sister, Melissa, became ill, and was cared for in Marymount, one of her last wishes was that we do the Everest base Camp trip for the Hospice,” says Gary Jordan, 30, from Ringaskiddy, who is in the Irish navy. The trek was previously on the bucket list for ship-mates him and Johnny.

“We had decided to do the trip two years previously while serving on board LE Niamh in the Mediterranean as part of Operation Sophia in 2017,” says Gary.

“In January, 2019, we booked our flight tickets and two weeks later booked our trek through a local agency in Nepal.”

Then the boys from the Munster counties of Cork and Waterford got their act together.

“Our training involved many hill walks in the Macgillyacuddy Reeks in Kerry, and in the months leading up to the trek itself we trekked the Galtee Mountains every weekend.”

Johnny’s sister, Melissa, 42, was climbing a mountain of her own. The mother of two was diagnosed with aggressive melanoma. She passed away in Marymount on July 3, 2019, surrounded by her family.

“Melissa became ill,” says Gary.

Johnny Trihy, Waterfod and Gary Jordan Ringskiddy, presenting a cheque for €8,545 to Marymount.
Johnny Trihy, Waterfod and Gary Jordan Ringskiddy, presenting a cheque for €8,545 to Marymount.

“Johnny phoned me and asked would I be happy to do the trek for Marymount. And without a second thought, we were doing this for Marymount!”

Johnny was close to his big sister.

“She was the eldest and she was the apple of Mam and Dad’s eye,” says Johnny.

“Melissa travelled all over the world after completing college in WIT. She worked in Perks in Ardmore, a cáfe in New York and most recently in Intel in Cork. She lived for her two children, Saoirse and Oísin.”

Johnny was the typical younger brother.

“Melissa always had pride in her home and it was always immaculate. I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one that was afraid to leave a mess behind!”

Melissa was brave, like her brother.

“In her final weeks, in true Melissa style, she had a huge entourage of people caring for her! This consisted of doctors, nurses, carers, cleaners and DIY professionals,” says Johnny.

“Melissa was unbelievably organised, both in her professional and personal life.”

She wasn’t afraid.

“Even through the toughest of days, she made sure that she planned her own funeral,” says Johnny.

“Having a wicked sense of humour, even in her final days, she gave us so many laughs through the toughest of times and these are the memories we will hold dearly forever.”

The prospect of achieving the summit of Everest Base Camp wasn’t just for a sense of self-achievement for the best friends anymore.

“It was then things got serious,” says Gary.

“Achieving the summit of Everest Base Camp wasn’t just a self-achievement. It was now in Melissa’s memory.”

Gary and John had climbed mountains before and came down the other side. Now, with this piece of the planet beneath their feet, the lads felt the ebb and flow of immense inspiration from Melissa and from Marymount Hospice who had cared for their loved one with love, dignity, and respect in Melissa’s final days.

“The trek was going to be 13 days of walking, 295km distance, over 270,000 steps, and achieving an overall height gain of 4,060,” says Gary.

The trek wasn’t for the faint-hearted. But then, Gary and John have the heart of lions.

“Trekking every day between six and eight hours, was both mentally and physically challenging,” admits Gary.

How did that make them feel?

“We stopped talking to each other for a while! We ran out of breath! Once or twice Johnny said he suffered from bad dreams, a side-effect from the high altitude.

CROSSING BASE CAMP BRIDGE: Gary Jordan from Ringaskiddy served with Johnny Trihy, Waterford. They did the climb in memory of Johnny's sister Melissa, who was supported by Marymount before she died.
CROSSING BASE CAMP BRIDGE: Gary Jordan from Ringaskiddy served with Johnny Trihy, Waterford. They did the climb in memory of Johnny's sister Melissa, who was supported by Marymount before she died.

“But we were lucky not to suffer from any sickness, injuries, or related illnesses,” adds Gary.

“Walking more than 30km a day, we eventually arrived at Base Camp at the height of 5,364 metres on Thursday October 10.

“We were a week without communication with home, so they were worrying times they tell us!”

Gary and Johnny left their worries behind, reflecting on their massive achievement and their fond memories of Melissa.

“We had a drop of Jameson at the summit and I played a tune on the tin whistle!” says Gary.

The dynamic duo weren’t done yet.

“We had decided to take on a further challenge, which was to ascend a glacier known as Chola Pass at a height of 5,420m,” says Gary.

“This was the most challenging as it meant scrambling up boulders larger than small vans before putting on our cramp-ons and taking on the packed ice of the glacier.”

After taking in breathtaking views of Everest and surrounding snow-capped peaks, the lads made it back down through the paths where barren stone and snow turned to lush grass and trees.

“The increase in oxygen saturation brings an elation of its own — walking more than 10 metres without running out of breath was again an achievement,” says Gary.

They had one more sky adventure to take on before returning to Ireland and to Marymount to present a cheque of just under €9,000 to the hospice.

“The last endurance to take on was the daunting flight off the cliff-side from Lukla Airport,” says Gary.

“On this occasion it really was a white-knuckle flight!”

The support and well-wishes that Gary and Johnny received was out of this world.

“We presented a cheque along with the Trihy family to Marymount on November 22, 2019, for €8,545,” says Gary.

It must have been a proud day?

“It was,” says Gary.

And the two close friends kept their promise to Melissa Ann, fulfilling her last wish to support the safe haven that had cared for her so well.

Melissa would be proud of her younger brother and his best friend conquering the summit of Everest Base Camp.

“In her home, Melissa has a quote framed,” says Johnny.

“It says Live, Laugh, Love. Just like she did.”

MARYMOUNT HISTORY

Marymount University Hospital and Hospice owes its origins to the inspiration of Dr Patrick Murphy, who formed his own experiences, living and working in Cork, well aware of the medical needs of the sick and poor of the city.

He had been impressed with the work of the Religious Sisters of Charity in Cork, founded by Mary Aikenhead, especially during the Famine.

When Dr Murphy died in 1867, he bequeathed to the Sisters whatever remained of his estate, on condition that they establish a hospital for cancer patients in Cork within two years.

In May, 1869, the foundation stone was laid on the site of the new hospital at Wellington Road. The first patient to be treated at the hospital in September 1870, was Catherine Hackett.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, seven wards were in use, funded largely by church collections, donations and money left by patients in their wills.

Marymount Hospital and Hospice, as part of St Patrick’s Hospital, was officially opened on April 26, 1984. In September, 2011, it moved from its long-time city centre location to a new, purpose built, state-of-the-art facility at Curraheen on the edge of the city.

This provides two distinct services. The elderly care facility offers respite care, intermediate palliative care and continuing care for older people. Marymount Hospice provides care to patients with progressive illnesses, both cancer and non-cancer, at a time when pain or other symptom issues need addressing.

Patients on active treatment may benefit from short-term admission for symptom control and rehabilitation. Support is offered to families facing loss or who are bereaved..

Marymount is the designated Specialist Care Centre for the Cork/Kerry region, serving a population of approximately 600,000.

The cost of providing this service is met by a combination of state funding and increasingly, by donated funds.

To contact phone: 021-4501201.

* Search 'Everest Base Camp Marymount' on YouTube to see a video of the men's expedition.

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