THERE’S a quote that leaps from the pages of Val Twomey’s cookbook from several years ago that reads; “Once you have hope, anything is possible…”
It’s a saying that resonated then, and even more so now, for the 51-year-old Crosshaven woman, who suffered a severe stroke and is being treated at Cork University Hospital.
Life can throw many challenges at a person and Val, in particular, has had more than her fair share.
Diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes aged 13, she also endured complications which led to her retinas becoming detached and there followed numerous eye surgeries. Val also had a quadruple bypass. Then, in 2004, she was diagnosed with end stage kidney disease and was put on dialysis, until she got that call in 2006 for a life- saving kidney transplant.
Her most recent health setback, a severe stroke following bleeds on the brain, happened in June, leaving her paralysed down one side. She is currently being cared for at Cork University Hospital (CUH) but her wish is to get home to Crosshaven, to continue her recovery there.
Her friend Maria O’Keeffe, who has known Val since she moved to Crosshaven during her Junior Cert year, said: “Her will to live is incredible. She is amazing to still be here.”
A go fund me page has been set up at https://www.gofundme.com/val-twomey-fundraiser and a fundraising event takes place on Sunday, October 14 at Bishopstown Tennis Club, to raise funds to help adapt her home and pay for her care, when she leaves hospital.
Tennis is a sport that Val is very passionate about. In fact, that is how she and Maria were first introduced — friends asked if she would give Val a game.
“We are friends ever since,” said Maria.
Val was passionate in particular about coaching youth tennis, which she was involved in for the past 10 years. She shared her knowledge with clubs in Crosshaven, Carrigaline and Bishopstown and Munster Tennis.
“She loved that,” said Maria, who added that it really pained Val to have to give that up when her health deteriorated recently.
Val was always into sport, as well as tennis, she played soccer for Crosshaven on the ladies team for a few years.
When she finished secondary school she went away to Cathal Brugha Street where she studied hotel management, and worked in the hotel and catering business for a few years, in the UK and at home, in places like Actons Hotel in Kinsale.
Maria recalled how Val has had a lot of health issues over the years, but after each knock-back, she got back up again.
In particular she recalled how grateful her friend was to receive the gift of life, with an organ transplant in 2006.
Maria said: “She was so grateful that she organised a cookbook in 2010. Truly Tasty was for adults with kidney disease — she put huge work into it. It was her way of giving back.”
The book contained recipes created by Ireland’s top chefs, including Neven Maguire, Rachel Allen, Derry Clarke, Clodagh McKenna, Kevin Dundon, Georgina Campbell, Ross Lewis, Rory O’Connell and Tom Doorley, which were analysed by dietitians from the Renal Interest Group of the Irish Nutrition & Dietetic Institute.
As Maria spoke about her friend’s latest challenge, as she recovers from her stroke, she recalled a quote in the book “Once you have hope, anything is possible…”
It’s this hope, to return home, that is pushing Val on, as she recovers from her latest health setback.
All royalties from Val’s book went to the Irish Kidney Association. In fact, Val has been a tireless campaigner for organ donation awareness over the years. She has addressed the European Parliament to talk about the needs of patients with chronic kidney disease. She also spoke to medical students at UCC to give them an insight into kidney disease from the patent’s perspective.
Val was also a member of the Irish Transplant Team and has represented Ireland at the European and World Transplant Games, in tennis.
Speaking to the Evening Echo back in 2009, Val said: “I am doing this to show that there is a good quality of life to be had after transplantation… Not a day goes by when I do not thank my donor and the family of my donor.
“Taking part in these competitions gives me a chance to highlight organ donation whilst at the same time show those waiting for a transplant that there is hope and a good quality of life to be had following transplant.”
Maria said it’s this positivity that has helped Val in her current health challenge.
She said Val has shocked everyone with her recovery since June and her determination to leave hospital. She has been in CUH for four months now.
“She’s incredible. She is the most incredible person I know. Her speech is coming back.. She is a fighter, she’ll find her way home.
“She has survived diabetes, eye surgeries, a quadruple bypass, transplant, stroke... other people would have given up, she is amazing.”
Maria described her friend as someone who would ‘do anything for anyone’.
“She is a great friend and is always there for everyone. If anyone else was up in CUH then she would be up and down to them. She is a lovely person. And I hope she will get her wish to come home. That is all she wants, she is so determined to get home.
“She is doing her physio and trying to get fit and strong so she can come home. A lot of work would need to be done to the house.”
It is with this in mind that the Go Fund Me Page has been launched.
Bishopstown Tennis Club have also organised a fundraiser.
Tennis Coach Conor Twomey explained why he is organising the event, as Val is a real inspiration to him.
Conor coached Val for the World Transplant Games — but after this, she returned to Setanta College to study to be a Physical Coach — and began to mentor him.
“I went from being her mentor, to her being mine. She is the best coach I worked with, she is meticulous, she is second to none.
“I was named Munster Coach of the year last year by Tennis Ireland — she is my mentor, I wouldn’t have achieved that, without her. She is the best I have worked with.”
Conor said if it was not for her health issues, Val could have gone on and changed the face of Irish tennis, such were her coaching skills, in particular amongst youths who she worked with, at Bishopstown, Carrigaline, Crosshaven and Munster Tennis.
“She was unbelieveably giving of her time. She had no ego, she was all about the kids and the players. She never looked for praise or attention herself.
“She was so dedicated to what she did, she went beyond anything you would imagine for coaching.”
Conor said the fundraising event on October 14 at Bishopstown Tennis Club, is for ladies only, in grades three and four and five. They are looking for 48 ladies to take part. Entry is €20. There will also be a raffle on the day with lots of spot prizes, from signed Cork jerseys, signed Munster Rugby ball, nights away and more. Conor is even hoping that the woman herself will put in an appearance.
“We are hoping Val will be there, it will be her first day out of hospital,” he said.
Anyone looking to get involved by playing, or donating a spot prize, can contact Conor on 087 1238585 or email firstname.lastname@example.org , The fundraiser will run from 2pm to 6pm.