Serving the State – Another human cost of the Irish Air Corps Toxic Chemical Health & Safety scandal

I’m writing this piece to give the reader an idea of the unusual life I have lived thus far and maybe by writing it to give myself some understanding of all that has happened me.

In 1989 I did my leaving cert and a year later joined the 3rd Infantry Battalion of the Irish Army. This was the beginning of my working life which has been spent always in the service of the state, something I am quite proud of.

After my basic training in the army I got an apprenticeship as an aircraft technician in the Air Corps. I had to discharge from the army and reenlist I think because this would mean I could be paid less as an apprentice. I didn’t mind. The future was bright.

When I was 22 my partner, later to become my wife and then ex-wife, gave birth to our daughter. At 23 I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer. This was a terrible shock to me. I was attending St. Bricin’s military hospital but was sent to an outside hospital for diagnosis. I had no family or friends with me when I was told of my illness and had a non chatty army driver to return me to St. Bricin’s after hearing the news.

I was discharged from the military hospital and was sent to an oncologist in St Luke’s hospital in Rathgar. I began an aggressive regime of 6 months strong chemotherapy followed by 6 months of strong radiotherapy. This was an horrific period of my life but I lived. This was obviously a positive outcome. I was young, strong and very fit when I began the treatment, very keen on sports and my physical conditioning.

It took me 3 years, in my estimation, from diagnosis to getting back to the place I was before it all began. Looking back though I am not sure anyone ever truly”gets over” an experience like that. You learn to move on but always with your fragile mortality in mind.

I enjoyed my job in the Air Corps working primarily on the piston engined Marchetti Warrior aircraft. I worked on 2 “IRAN”‘s while employed there. This involves completely disassembling the aircraft, inspection and rebuilding of same. I was also heavily involved in the restoration of an Avro Anson and various other historical aircraft for the museum which was just beginning at the time.

During this work I was exposed to countless amounts of toxic chemicals with little or no protective equipment. But as it was the military orders were orders and I just did as I was told. I often wondered at the time was it this exposure that caused my cancer. I was never told any cause for my cancer and I suppose I could have been just unlucky.

I served for 11 years in the Air Corps and then I joined An Garda Siochana. I had no real idea of the job of a Garda and had no family or friends in that job but just felt like it was something I would like to do. I was right. I enjoyed the work and challenges from day one. I really felt I could make a positive difference to people’s lives. I discovered that I found studying the law enjoyable. A job where you could be as busy as you chose. I chose to be very busy. I earned numerous commendations for excellent police work, was awarded a silver medal for bravery and got to meet the president in Áras an Uachtaráin. With relatively short service in the guards I made it off the regular unit and was appointed into the traffic corps. After 12 years and the belief I was infertile my wife became pregnant again and I had a son. Then we planned again and 3 years later another daughter arrived. Life was good.

Or was it? I found in my mid 30’s I was suffering from anxiety for no reason. I fell into serious depression, again for no apparent reason. This depression was serious enough that I considered suicide and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for a time. I was having severe abdominal pain in sync with this. I was still very fit, had my own little gym in my garage and worked out every day. No logic could explain my anxiety or depression. The abdominal pain was diagnosed as a stomach ulcer. A stomach ulcer is no big deal in this day and age……it destroyed my life!

The normal treatment for a stomach ulcer today is a triple therapy of 3 different medications that kill that that helio-whatever bacteria. This didn’t work on me. Over a number of weeks as an in patient in a private hospital, fasting, the consultant tried every way he could think to cure me. He was unable. He informed me one Friday that he was going to a gathering of the most eminent gastro consultants over the weekend and that he intended to talk to the top professor in relation to my case. On his return he told me this professor was very interested in my case and would see me in St Jame’s hospital in Dublin.

I had a meeting with the professor who thought that surgery was the only option I had to get rid of this stomach ulcer I was suffering with. In May of that year I had the surgery during which 70% of my stomach was removed. I had a scar from my bellybutton to chest but the ulcer was gone. I went to Wexford with my family to a mobile home over the summer to recover after I was released from hospital. In September I began to feel unwell and got extreme pain even through the strong medications I was on. I have little memory of what happened next but now know that the wounds I had internally had failed to heal and the stitching burst inside. I was rushed to James where emergency surgery was performed and they managed to save me. I was in an induced coma for 2 weeks after this where I was in intensive care on life support. I contracted VRE and CRE which I believe are something similar to MRSA. To shorten the story this happened twice more to me. Each time I was in intensive care and each time I was very lucky to survive.

My marriage broke down. I lost my house. Because of the time period I wasn’t getting paid anymore and was on social welfare payments. Each time I went to hospital I had, and still have, to be in isolation because of my history. On one occasion a couple of weeks after a surgery I was moved from intensive care to a high dependency room. Normally when I got out of intensive care I would be overjoyed mostly because I would then have a toilet and not rely on nurses to help me and then clean me. On this occasion I just got into the bed and lay there. Something didn’t feel right but I couldn’t say what. An hour or 2 later I suddenly couldn’t breathe. I don’t mean shortness of breath or panting. I literally couldn’t breathe. I hit the nurses call button and thankfully she came straight away, saw what was happening and shouted for help. Again my memory is gone from this point but I later found out my sister was just arriving for a visit only to see my bed being rushed down a corridor by doctors. As she works in a hospital she happened to know one of the doctors in the unit. She asked what was happening and was taken to a family room to be told it was touch and go and that she should contact the rest of my family. This timing was messy because of my separation from my wife there was next of kin issues. I had had a pulmonary embolism which I believe is a clot in the lungs that stopped them working. I then spent another couple of weeks in intensive care but thanks to brilliant doctors I again survived.

Last year, 2016, there was only 2 months of that year in which I wasn’t an in patient of one hospital or another for varying lengths of time. In December, out of nowhere, I got double pneumonia and pulmonary sepsis. This happened within the space of 2 hours and again I may have died. I now use a nebulizer twice a day and an inhaler in an effort to get my lungs working correctly again. I have a new partner now and she is a living saint to put up with all the hardship I bring her. With her help I again have a home, after having to move back to my mother’s, and I can take care of my children.

Although long, this is only a synopsis of everything I have suffered in the past 5 years or so. I never told my consultant in James hospital that I had worked in the Air Corps and had been exposed to dangerous chemicals over a prolonged period. I just never joined the dots. I was a Garda. That was it. He was at a loss as to explain how so much went wrong with me even though the greatest care was given to me. He thought probably the radiotherapy from 20 years previously had damaged me. But if that had been the case more radiotherapy patients from that time would most likely have displayed similar symptoms and this is not the case. Having recently heard it mentioned in the Dáil and seeing it in the newspaper I have finally found a possible reason for what has happened me. I hurt all the time now, physically and mentally. My goals when I joined the guards all those years ago were to make a positive difference. I will never walk the beat again. I will never do a drug search or a check point ever again. I’ll never do all those things I loved in the police ever again.

Now my goal is to live to see my youngest kids grow to adulthood. That is my challenge. I hope I can achieve it and I hope I haven’t bored you.

5 thoughts on “Serving the State – Another human cost of the Irish Air Corps Toxic Chemical Health & Safety scandal”

  1. Thanks for your service……
    Welcome to the dead men walking club…..
    More of us than you think…u are not alone….

  2. Good God my thoughts and prayers go out to you after all you have been through and can’t believe we used to call you “Lucky” ….

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