The Athlete I Married – Another human cost of the Irish Air Corps Toxic Chemical Health & Safety scandal

My husband joined the Irish Army Air Corps as an apprentice in 1991, he was 17 years old. He was so young in fact he was legally classed as a child soldier which required his parents to sign away their legal guardianship to the Minister for Defence. Prior to joining the Air Corps he was one of Donegal’s top junior athletes.

I met him in 1992 while he was still living in in the apprentice hostel accommodation at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel. At that stage he had already represented the Air Corps at athletics and was a regular member of their winning Business House League cross country team. At 18 years of he was running a 10k in 31 minutes and a 5k in 15 minutes. He was full of life and I remember meeting this force of energy. He was very funny and had more energy than I thought possible in one individual. Fast forward to 2017 and now aged 43 he can now only manage a 5k in his mobility scooter.

A year after I met him he graduated from the Air Corps Apprentice School and moved “up camp” to Avionics Squadron where within a few short months he became very emotional and started to suffer from extreme anxiety. He went, in a short space of time, from being a huge force of energy to an unpredictable troubled man and that is how he has remained.

Through 20 years of marriage and 24 of the 25 years that I have known and loved him I still feel lucky enough that he hasn’t lost all of his love of life. But although he is losing more of his physical ability each day he still manages a smile and he still loves me and the children. He still wants to be energetic for me and his family but as his list of medical problems get progressively worse his driving force gets more and more depleted.

24 years ago his medical problems started with anxiety & stress then a sudden loss of all pigmentation in his right leg & groin area where all the hair went white and all his skin pale after a tubbing incident with an unknown chemical. There is still a visible line with two different skin tones each side. Later followed stomach ulcers and Crohn’s like bowel problems which are a constant source of embarrassment.

Next started the nerve damage, pins & needles, loss of sense of touch in arms & legs and eventually sudden excruciating pain in random parts of the body as bad as a toothache but 1,000 times worse.

Then came the “in your head” diagnosis. The vast majority of Irish doctors & consultants simply have no experience of industrial diseases but they all have a deep need to “pigeonhole” and move on. As my husband got progressively worse his GP was convinced that he was simply malingering and suggested that he see a psychiatrist.

After suffering at the mercy of an unsympathetic Irish medical establishment for many years he finally discovered a specialist in Scandinavia who invited him over for tests. He has been diagnosed with Stage 3 Chronic Solvent Induced Encephalopathy. Stage 3 is the top of a 1 to 3 scale and means that damage has reached as far as his internal organs.

He has suffered Thermoregulation Vasoconstrictor failure, this means his body cannot control his body temperature, he sweats when he is cold, shivers when he is hot and every step in between.

And it goes on, he has suffered Cardioaccelerator failure of his heart. This means that his body cannot increase his heart rate when needed, so his heart constantly pumps at a slow rate meaning even climbing a stairs is like climbing Mount Everest to him. If his heart rate cannot speed up it cannot pump enough oxygen around his body causing huge fatigue. Staying with his heart he has also suffered Cardiodepressor function failure which results in complicated blood pressure problem. He also suffers Baroreflex Hypersensitivity.

These genuinely are only a fraction of the abnormal tests results, in fact we cannot understand many of the results as they are so technical but they prove why my husband is so weak & tired all the time.

This consultant Neurophysiologist confirmed that due to the litany of autonomic nerve damage there are only a few chemicals in use that can cause such damage. But one thing is certain, all of the chemicals that are capable of causing the injuries my husband suffers from were used in the Irish Army Air Corps with utter disregard to any chemical health & safety.

It is further shocking to learn that the failures of health & safety in the Air Corps that were present and known about in the 1990s, are only now being remedied in 2017. This took several protected disclosures to the Minister for Defence, the Chief of Staff and the Health & Safety Authority.

My husband held the Irish Defence Forces fitness test 2 mile run record for 15 years. It was 9 minutes 6 seconds and was only beaten about 6 years ago by another proud Donegal man. Today even his top of the range mobility scooter cannot beat that time.

Does anyone know what it feels like to watch the man you love go through all of this suffering & pain and to then watch the Taoiseach Enda Kenny and the Junior Minister for Defence Paul Kehoe say in Dáil Éireann that the Irish Air Corps has a very high standard of health & safety?

It is like listening to a rapist defending himself in court by saying that he did what he did out of love…

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