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Family describe battle with chronic fatigue illness ME

Mark McAnulla shows off the amount of hair that his mother Aine donated to the Little Princess Trust. Aine didn’t mind losing her long hair as she is keen to highlight ME, which Mark has suffered from since the age of 12. (Photo: Michael Cullen)

An Omagh mum has spoken of her efforts to raise awareness and funds in aid of the chronic fatigue illness ME.

Aine McAnulla’s world was turned upside down just over one year ago when her athletic 12-year-old son Mark took ill.

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“After receiving a podium finish at the Lakelander swimming gala in Enniskillen, Mark took a severe headache,” she recalled. “Mark then lost the ability to walk and talk.”

The initial hospital assessment left doctors stumped, and after a fortnight, the Omagh CBS student was discharged in a wheelchair to begin his path to recovery.

“The initial aim following the return of his speech, was to get him walking again so in came the zimmer frame,” said Aine, who is a full-time student nurse in her final year at university.

Under the advice of a physiotherapist and believing in the rehabilitative benefits of swimming, Aine took Mark back to the pool.

But she was in for a shock, the Omagh boy had forgotten how to swim.

A volunteer head coach at the Strule Dolphins club, Aine, who is originally from Strabane, admitted that aspect was particularly difficult to accept.

“That was even more overwhelming than him not being able to walk independently,” she said.

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“The reality set in that Mark may never recover from this mysterious illness. His balance, co-ordination and connection to his legs where greatly reduced. But me being me, I wasn’t for giving up and neither was Mark.”

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With support from family, friends, physiotherapy and graded exercise, things began to improve, helped by an uplifting home visit from Omagh’s senior players on Christmas Eve last year.

A number of seniors players from Omagh St Enda’s paid Mark a morale boosting visit.

“Mark then progressed to the crutches and at the end of March,” recalled Aine. “A few days after his birthday he began to walk independently again.”

It was around this time, that the family were finally given a diagnosis. Mark had ME, otherwise known as CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome).

“I never knew much of this condition, but by heck I do now,” said Aine.

“Mark is in the recovery phase of ME. There is no cure and very little research or awareness around ME.

“Furthermore there is a high chance that Mark may have a reoccurrence of what happened this time last year, but our focus is on continuing to improve.

“Mark still has not regained full strength and he may never,” conceded Aine, but she remains in awe of his mental strength and determination.

“Mark continues to push on and fight every day to maintain a normal functioning life. He deals with the bad days when he simply cannot get out of bed, but makes the most of every other day that he can.

“Thankfully Mark has returned to his Gaelic and soccer, swimming is a work in progress, but under the watchful eye of his coaches and team mates he is making progress.

“Although he may not be at the standard he was prior to ME he is still participating and determined to get there. Unfortunately others with ME have not been so fortunate.”

In the hope of raising awareness and funds for ME research, Aine recently decided to have her hair cut off, with the kind help of Imelda at Hair Depot.

The funds will go to ME Research UK and the locks to the Princess Trust. Aine is still accepting donations, to help her cause, visit justgiving.com/aine-mcanulla

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