Saturday 16 December 2017

Smurfit reveals how he almost lost his life to TB as a young man

Michael Smurfit
Michael Smurfit
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

He has built up a multi-million euro empire, put Ireland on the map of world-class colleges and golf courses and received such honours as European Man of the Year and a KBE from the Queen of England.

But as a young man, Michael Smurfit never thought he would see another year of life -- let alone achieve so much.

The packaging tycoon has revealed how he almost died of TB in his early 20s.

The wealthy businessman, who celebrated his 75th birthday last weekend, revealed to a host of family and friends at the private gathering on a private island in the K Club Golf and Country Club Hotel in Co Kildare how he once was on death's door.

"When I was in my 20s I was struck down with tuberculosis," he explained.

"I was put into a sanatorium. And if someone had given me a contract and told me it would give me another 50 years of life, I would have signed it there and then. No questions asked."

Ireland in the Forties and Fifties was one of the poorest countries in Europe, and four thousand people were dying from TB every year.

And Dr Smurfit was struck down with the disease at a time when a diagnosis was like being handed a death sentence. "I never thought I'd make it to 75," he said.

Many young men and women in Ireland spent long years in the artificial world of the TB sanatorium -- and most expected to die there.

There was a terrible stigma attached to the disease and it was rarely spoken of openly. The sanatorium was often located in an isolated area on the edge of a town and regarded with unease by locals.

But miraculous hope came for the multi-millionaire with the discovery of antibiotics, and his young life was saved.

Dr Smurfit also spoke about his family, including his former wife Norma Smurfit, whom the tycoon complimented, and his lifelong friends, who had turned out for the celebration.

Prince Albert of Monaco replied on behalf of the guests, showering praise on his close friend and quipping that the doctor was "25 years of age with 50 years' experience".

Sunday Independent

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