'He burst into tears' - Singer Niamh Kavanagh learned her husband had stroke in the middle of live performance
Irish singer Niamh Kavanagh has described how she was in the middle of a concert when she was told the news that her musician husband Paul Megahey had suffered a stroke at home.
Niamh (51) was performing with fellow Eurovision Song Contest winners Paul Harrington, Charlie McGettigan, and Linda Martin at the Opera House in Cork last October when she got a text from her son asking if she could call him.
Niamh said her life “changed drastically” in that moment. She called her son backstage while she had a break in the show.
“I rang him thinking that he was looking for a lift home which is quite regular,” she told RTE’s Sunday with Miriam today.
“It turned out that my husband Paul had had an ischemic stroke. The boys were magnificent, they rose to the occasion in a way that I wasn’t expecting because you’re kind of giving out about them not picking up all their clothes and all of that, and yet when they dealt with their father who, when they went through FAST (a system of identifying stroke symptoms), and they asked the questions [they were magnificent].”
Ischemic strokes occur when the arteries in the brain become narrowed or blocked, causing severely reduced blood flow. Paul, who is a guitarist and singer, had lost his ability to speak.
“I still had to go out and sing Waterloo and Making Your Mind Up after that... that’s the nature of what I do, you don’t always get to choose what you do in that moment.”
Because a storm was forecast for that night, Niamh said she had to wait until the next morning before she could drive home to Carrickfergus, Co Antrim to be with her husband.
“I arrived to find my husband really struggling with his speech. This man, a very capable man, very beautiful man [who] played music with me for years, and in that moment he doesn’t know what’s happening to him. I don’t know what’s happening. We don’t know how long this is going to be.”
“It is scary. People immediately think that they’re going to be completely debilitated, they don’t know what’s going to happen. I didn’t know what I was going to go up and face, I didn’t know what I was walking into and actually – he won’t mind me telling you this – when I walked in the door he burst into tears because for him in that moment, he was able to let go... I was there to take over.”
She added: I think you don’t realise how much you take for granted... being able to just access things lyrically in your head... and then for that to be taken away from you... he can see the words, he just can’t get them out.”
“Within 24 hours I went from being at the Opera house being very glam, because Linda always makes me wear the good shoes and the good dress, and sitting in my front room with a folder so thick that it looked like I had done a Phd on something, all about information about the stroke and what needed to happen next, and realising that I was the one that had to make it happen because Paul wasn’t in any real state to deal with it just initially.”
She added: “He had all the work to do from the speech point of view because it turned out that he had aphasia which is basically he lost access into his word bank..”
Niamh, who won the Eurovision in 1993 for “In Your Eyes”, said she has had a brilliant career, performing at the Grammies in the early 90s, performing for Bette Middler in LA, and recording in Nashville. And for their relationship, she says it’s important that she and Paul continue to perform together as his recovery continues. The pair are preparing to tour together for their show “Date Night” later in the year.
“Two days in [after the stroke], I handed him a guitar and told him he was no good to me unless he could play the guitar so I think I was trying to encourage him to see that he still had a lot of himself in there.”
“He recovered reasonably quickly in the first few weeks, you do find that it does happen, but for me it meant that I had to centre myself back into the house much more than I had being doing.”
“It was important because he needed it for his confidence and I needed it for my confidence that he was good, and that the boys wouldn’t be stressed about dealing with it.”
She added: “We were very blessed because we have a great sense of humour anyway – anyone who’s seen us in concert will tell you the banter is very much a part of who we are and so you use humour to get through situations, and he is back playing the guitar and singing. Singing is a little bit more selective because it’s a little bit more ‘Swedish chef’ in places as they say in the muppets, and sometimes words just don’t come out when he needs them to but he’s improving all the time.”
Niamh herself who was told after surgery on an enlarged thyroid or a ‘goitre’ in 2017 that she may never be able to sing again, said in moments like these you find a new strength.
“You can regain it and it’s about finding your new normal in that, you don’t have to define it from what you were before, as a matter of fact you can create something new and wonderful from it.”
“It’s been really beautiful to share with Paul, even in the moments when I wanted to raise my eyes so high they were rolling at the back of my head, because it’s not easy sometimes to deal with the patience required. But in my head every time I do that I think about how much more patience he needs to deal with the fact that he’s the actual one living it.”
“I encouraged him to go back to his real life as much as possible. It’s about regaining your confidence in that so that's why we’re doing the Date Night tours this year... he’s a beautiful musician and the relationship between us is very much a part of that and so I’m very keen to kind of get that back out.”
“Paul is singing and playing just as fabulous as ever so don’t be worrying, and you’ll have plenty of couples therapy during it and great singing,” she told anyone interested in attending the show.