Fianna Fail TD is determined to battle disease
Fianna Fail TD Michael Fitzpatrick has been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease -- but is determined to meet the challenges posed by the incurable condition head on.
Deputy Fitzpatrick was given the diagnosis three weeks ago after doctors ordered a series of tests when he lost the power in his right arm.
"I have been diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. The final tests were done one day and I was told the next. It is, of course, a progressive disease and I am on two tablets a day which I am told will slow down progression of it. I'm happy with that. I don't feel any worse than I did at Christmas. The power in my right arm is diminished substantially, apart from that I feel OK.
"I am a public representative and it's my duty to let the people know that there is something wrong but that I am available to them, to do all the work I've been doing. I will do that for as long as I can," he told the Sunday Independent.
Motor Neurone Disease is a progressive and irreversible condition that attacks the nervous system and leaves muscles damaged and weak. The exact cause remains unknown, though there is evidence that there may be a genetic component in some cases while other studies have shown environmental factors may play a role.
Deputy Fitzpatrick's diagnosis is a blow to his party and comes a little over two months since it was revealed in a controversial TV3 news broadcast that Finance Minister Brian Lenihan is being treated for cancer.
Meanwhile, Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism Martin Cullen is fighting a chronic and debilitating back complaint which led to him to be hospitalised last week.
Mr Fitzpatrick was elected a TD for the first time in the last general election and he was constituency organiser for former Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy for 15 years.
About one in every 50,000 people are diagnosed with MND every year in Ireland.
"The first symptoms appeared last November. I noticed that there was something wrong with my right hand, with the power I had. I went to the doctor in December and he sent me into the Hermitage in Lucan on January 4 where I had X-rays taken but nothing turned up.
"Then I was sent to Naas General Hospital for further tests and X-rays and nothing really showed the cause of the problem," Mr Fitzpatrick said.
After X-rays failed to find out what was wrong he was sent to St James's Hospital where he was seen by consultant neurologist Prof Niall Tubridy, a brother of Late Late Show host Ryan Tubridy.
"He sent me to the Blackrock Clinic and it was there that they diagnosed me."
Deputy Fitzpatrick and his wife Maureen have one son, Darragh, a racecourse manager for Ladbrokes in Ireland.
"At one level I was relieved to find out at last what was wrong with me, though at that stage I really didn't have much of [a] clue about Motor Neurone Disease, and what the consequences of it are. I know a little more now. It wasn't a huge shock," he told the Sunday Independent.
The 68-year-old remains philosophical and upbeat.
"I have a great life and this is a challenge in that life. I have to say things are no worse than they were three weeks ago or before that. I am in the Dail three days a week and I am in my office in Naas today holding clinics and I will be in Celbridge at the weekend. I'm keeping going.
"There is no use going into a corner and sulking because you only upset other people by doing that and I just feel better doing what I have always done and I am comfortable. That's my way of coping and I hope I will be doing that for a long long time to come.
"Prof Tubridy was very straight about it. And I appreciated that. He said: 'Your bloods are OK, your cholesterol is alright, you don't have cancer but you do have Motor Neurone, and it is a progressive disease'.
"He told me that he didn't know how long I would last. He said it could be months or years. But he did say there were people who were coming in to see him five years after they were diagnosed who are in good shape so I would be hoping I would be one of those cases," Mr Fitzpatrick said.