A CORK teen who had chosen her funeral song after contracting a potentially deadly disease is now choosing a dress to compete in Miss Ireland.
Emily Hayes from Carrigaline narrowly escaped with her life after a sepsis diagnosis in 2016. The illness manifests itself through the presence of harmful bacteria and toxins in body tissue.
A long battle with the disease, which claims 3,000 lives in Ireland each year, initially left the now 18-year-old unable to undertake everyday tasks independently. “My speech was seriously affected,” Emily explained. “Mum even had to help me shower. I basically had to relearn everything I knew before.”
During her time spent in isolation at Cork University Hospital, Emily picked out the song ‘With You” from the musical Ghost for her funeral.
Now, however, she is preparing to compete in the semi-finals of Miss Ireland in Dublin this July after being scouted by an agent from Cork agency Pulse Models at a regional heat for the Rose of Tralee.
“I’m living every moment like it’s my last,” Emily told the Evening Echo.
What’s even more impressive is that Emily is thriving amid another serious battle, her mother Nicky’s ovarian cancer.
She was diagnosed in March with stage three of the illness.
“When I got the diagnosis Emily held my hand and said ‘We got sepsis. We’ll get cancer too’,” Nicky said.
Since they were hit with the devastating news, Emily has done everything for her mum down to setting out a special nutrition plan and preparing tailor-made meals.
“When Emily got sepsis we fought it together,” Nicky recalled. “Now we’re fighting this together. Chemo makes you so tired but it’s really important to get up and dress up. Going to watch Emily in the Miss Ireland contest has given me a reason to do that.”
Nicky said that one of the hardest parts of her own fight was losing her hair.
“My own mum gave me a journal so I could write about the journey,” Nicky said. “However, there was only one word I wanted to put down on the page and that was ‘hair’.”
When my hair came out I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it. I keep it in a bag in my wardrobe. Even though it’s not a part of me anymore it’s still mine and that was very important to me.”
Emily’s hope has inspired her mum Nicky to look to the future.
“I never thought I’d make it out of that hospital, never mind the Miss Ireland stage,” Emily added. “You never know what the future holds. I feel like I’m standing by this conveyor belt that has all these lovely things coming my way. Mum has never been this sick, but she’s also never been this busy. We are doing so much together.”
Emily balanced her Leaving Cert studies with helping her mum fight the disease. She still credits her mum with saving her life.
“When we were on holiday in Spain I wanted to get my belly button pierced. A lot of my friends had theirs done and it was all I wanted. She finally agreed but before we went away she suggested I wait ’til I get home and have it done by someone reputable. If I had got that piercing I would have died. It wasn’t until I got home that we learned I had sepsis.”
Emily also praised her mother for the urgent action she took when symptoms first surfaced. “Back then we had no idea I had just a six-hour window to get the antibiotic I needed. We spent five hours in the accident and emergency department before I was seen.”
Emily’s positivity was immortalised in her school yearbook.
“My quote in the yearbook is something I do my best to live by ‘Let your smile change the world but don’t let the world change your smile’.”
If she wins the Miss Ireland contest, Emily will have a chance to see a lot more of the world, but there’s one place she and her mother dream of returning to.
Nicky explained: “When I was in the hospital the doctor sat with me for 40 minutes, trying to encourage me to stay positive. I told him I was listening to the bells of Wilton Church and pretending I was in Venice. As soon as I said it he told me to ‘hold on to that’.”
Nicky heaped praise on the staff of Carrigaline Community School who she said were instrumental in helping Emily get to where she is today.
“We owe a huge thank you to Gene Cahill (Emily’s class head) and Pat Looney (Emily’s year head) in particular. I rang up the school after my own diagnosis. They took care of everything and looked after Emily so well.”
Now a fully fledged beauty queen, Emily has the world at her feet, but she insists her heart will always be in Carrigaline.
“Carrigaline Comm is so much more than a school,” Emily added. “The people in the area have been amazing too. When people ask me where I see myself in the world I always say Carrigaline. The support here has been so amazing that I never want to leave.”