'My biggest fan and my best friend': Cork graduate overjoyed to be able to share big day with Granny Rita (93)

'My biggest fan and my best friend': Cork graduate overjoyed to be able to share big day with Granny Rita (93)

Dr Gary O'Brien, Togher who graduated with a PhD doctorate in clinical pharmacy at UCC pictured during a visit to his grandmother Rita O'Leary (93) Farranlee house community nursing home

A YOUNG Togher man who spent 10 years helping care for his grandmother, celebrated a UCC graduation with a difference today on the grounds of the nursing home where she lives.

Gary O'Brien, who received a PhD in Clinical Pharmacy, said that his 93-year-old grandmother Rita has been a major influence in his life. 

Growing up, he enjoyed helping organise her medication which led him to pursue a career in pharmacy.

The pharmacist had previously decided to attend work on the day of his virtual graduation ceremony. However, after being granted the first outside visit to Rita in months, he grasped the opportunity with both hands. 

Dr Gary O'Brien, Togher who graduated with a PhD doctorate in clinical pharmacy at UCC pictured with his sister Emma and his girlfriend Joanne Moloney during a visit to his grandmother Rita O'Leary (93) Farranlee house community nursing home
Dr Gary O'Brien, Togher who graduated with a PhD doctorate in clinical pharmacy at UCC pictured with his sister Emma and his girlfriend Joanne Moloney during a visit to his grandmother Rita O'Leary (93) Farranlee house community nursing home

Gary said he ordered the hat and gown to make the experience feel as authentic as possible. The result was a private ceremony with Granny as the special-and only!-guest.

"Like everybody else, we are browned off with the situation," he said of the pandemic. "I had thought of staying at home but my granny was my main motivator. Things have been very tough on her."

He recalled how his love of pharmacy began.

"I was about 11 or 12 when I noticed all the tablets my grandmother was on," he said. "She kept them in a navy string bag. I felt at the time that this was a very inefficient system so I took them all out and organised them on a special tray. 

"Even back then it used to bug me if medication wasn't organised in the correct way."

Gary-who later lived and cared for his grandmother- confessed that not much has changed since then.

"They think I'm her son in the nursing home because I'm always the one phoning enquiring about what medicine she's on," he laughed Rita, who resides in Farranlea Nursing Home always encouraged Gary to pursue his dreams.

"Years ago when our parents were working full-time she was always there to mind us. She has always been my biggest fan and my best friend. 

"I know that no matter what I had wanted to do she would have supported and been happy for me."

The inspiring Cork man had helped care for Rita for 10 years before she moved to a nursing home.

'I did the breakfasts and made dinners at weekends. We split all the jobs. I used to take care of the medical stuff from bringing her to appointments to organising her medication four times a day."

Gary also stepped in to administer his grandmother's regular injections.

"With me, she often complained of being left with bruising. However, there were no problems with the Covid vaccines.

"She described the sensation as like having a cat licking your arm whereas I must have been that little bit rougher!"

Rita's complex needs meant that she eventually had to move to a nursing home in 2018.

"This was something we had always put on the long finger. It broke our hearts when she had to eventually go into the home but we no longer had the manpower to look after her ourselves. 

"The thing is that her mind is perfect but sometimes her body can't quite catch up."

Since the start of the pandemic, Gary said his grandmother has always kept in touch with the outside world. He praised the nursing home where she lives and said that staff there take great care of her.

"Even though she is in a nursing home she has the gossip about everyone before I do. Her phone is with her all the time so she has all the news on everyone."

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