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Raising funds and family

'We were introduced in a bar in Castleisland in Kerry and struck up a good conversation," says Joe Browne, the founder of the Build4Life cystic fibrosis charity, reminiscing on how he first met his wife Carol. "It's a conversation that has lasted for 21 years at this stage."

Joe was 27 and Carol was 22 and known as Carol Broderick when they got together as a couple. While both came from Castleisland, Carol, a hairdresser, had lived in England for a couple of years, and Joe, an electrician, had spent four years in New York.

A lot of their friends had emigrated around then, they say, which is why they chose to get married in the small lakeside village of Piediluco in Italy. Joe's cousin lived there, so while they had no friends and family of their own present, they had great fun celebrating with a group of locals over a 14-course meal. And when they came back, their families organised a big surprise party with a couple of hundred people, so they had the best of both worlds.

Carol changed careers from hairdressing to running her own accessories shop, called De Brun, in Castleisland for a few years, and then four years after marriage, she and Joe began their family. They had their eldest son Jack, now aged 14, followed by their son Padraig, who is now 10.

Baby Padraig was often extremely sick with chest infections and pneumonia, which worried Joe and Carol greatly. When he was 18 months old, Padraig was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF), the chronic disease that causes serious lung and digestive problems, among other things, and often brings about early death in sufferers.

"The diagnosis was such a shock that I decided to give up work to stay at home and be with Padraig," says Carol. "He is doing very well now, and is very spirited and lively. He loves to be out playing with our three dogs, whom he adores, and he's very lovable."

When Padraig was diagnosed, Carol was pregnant with their third son Paul, now eight, who was clear of CF.

Like anyone else with a sick child, one of the things that she and Joe have to ensure is that their three children get equal attention. Her sons now understand that while Padraig may get extra treats when in hospital, he is also going through very difficult treatments at the same time.

"Carol is a tireless worker around the home, and she carries the can for an awful lot of things, which allows me to do what I have to do," says Joe. "Maybe I should be pitching in a bit more."

Padraig is treated at hospitals in Dublin and Tralee when he's ill. One of the things that concerned Joe and Carol was the lack of facilities for adult CF sufferers in Cork University Hospital (CUH), where Padraig will attend as an adult.

So, four and a half years ago, Joe set up a charity called Build4Life, aiming to increase awareness of the disease and to raise approximately €1m to build Ireland's first dedicated cystic fibrosis treatment unit in Cork. This is very important, he says, because CUH treats 25 per cent of CF patients nationwide.

It has been an outstanding success, as the charity has raised €2.3m so far, meaning that this summer work will begin on a world-class adult clinic and unit with isolated beds, which will help to prevent the dreaded cross-infection that poses such a threat to vulnerable CF patients.

Joe now aims to raise enough to build the same facilities for children with the illness, and is co-ordinating a fundraising week in Cork to generate the money to do this. It is remarkable, says his proud wife, when you consider that all of the much-needed facilities that will benefit the lives of so many people have come entirely from the charity.

It was this great work that saw Joe selected as the winner of the Santa Rita 120 Local Hero of the Year 2011 competition, from more than 200 entries nationwide.

"Joe eats and sleeps the work, and could be at it 12 hours a day, with his phone continuously going," says Carol. "He's great as a husband and he'd be romantic in his own way. Like every couple with kids, we try to get away together on our own the odd time, because it doesn't happen too often.

"Joe has fantastic energy and he just adores Padraig so much, and he never gives up around the CF work. He seems to be gifted at getting people together and I'm delighted for him that it's finally coming together."

Earlier this month, Joe and Carol came to Dublin for the Santa Rita Local Hero awards ceremony, where a round of interviews and photoshoots was set up in advance of the ceremony at the Merrion Hotel. They were staying at the Dylan Hotel, and as they were unpacking the car, the pair realised to their horror that his suit and her dress had been left behind in Kerry.

Joe had to borrow a jacket from one of the hotel porters for a photoshoot, after which he and Carol ran into Grafton Street to buy replacement clothes in a huge hurry.

As the woman who nominated Joe told him that she would not be attending the ceremony, the genial Kerryman presumed he wasn't in the running for winning the award.

"As it was Santa Rita, the wine was flowing, so I was getting up close and personal with the sauvignon blanc," he laughs. "I was so surprised when my name was called out as the winner of the award, but delighted too, as the charity got a cheque for €10,000 and both the woman who nominated us, and Carol and I, won a trip to Chile.

"It was so generous of the company and we'd love to go, but I'm not sure how feasible that will be with three boys, one of whom has CF. But even more importantly, it gave the charity a huge boost and we're delighted about that."

Build4Life4Kids fundraising week for children with cystic fibrosis will be held in Cork from April 11 to 16. Visit www.build4life.net for further information

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