The sister of a young Wexford woman who lost her life to Motor Neurone Disease a decade ago has spoken for the first time about how the illness impacted her beloved sister and her family.
Aisling Martin was a former world-class gymnast who was diagnosed with the debilitating condition Motor Neurone Disease in her early thirties.
Her sister Fiona Doyle said: 'My sister Aisling was diagnosed with MND aged 29. It was very unusual as she was so young. She had been losing the use of her thumb and in one of her hands.'
A talented athlete, Aisling soon found it difficult to walk.
'She started to drag her feet slightly. Doctors thought it was arthritis. She was sick since she was 26. They brought her to the Bon Secours, the last thing they thought to diagnose her with was MND.'
From Clonard in Wexford town, Aisling saw her life fade away before her eyes with every passing day.
'She was diagnosed in August and her boyfriend proposed to her that September.'
Aisling travelled to Canada for a trip that month. 'Even then she was struggling to get around. It spread very rapidly. She was super fit up until MND and had won medals for Ireland in gymnastics. Aisling and had been doing kick boxing and jujitsu. At the start she thought she had damaged her hand doing that.'
The family enjoyed a wonderful wedding day.
'It was fabulous; very emotional. My father was crying when he was leading her up the aisle. She was finding it so difficult to walk so he helped her. It was her dream to get married in Barntown Church. Barntown wasn't our parish but the parish priest gave her special dispensation. We went to England for the dress.'
2007 was a special year for another reason as Fiona got married also.
'She was supposed to walk up the aisle with me and our sisters Orla and Ciara. Aisling was so into her fitness it was really ironic that she got MND and by that summer she was in a wheelchair.'
Part by part Aisling's body shut down.
'She had a walker but then she lost the use of her arms. My Dad Ray was dying of cancer at the time as well. Mam wasn't capable of caring for her. Her speech started to go. We were literally fighting fires. Aisling was highly intelligent and had worked as an accountant for Rehab Lottery. She was a bright, witty girl so her communication skills being taken away from her was very challenging. Her swallow started to go and she was peg fed through a hole in her stomach. Every time you wanted to put food into her you'd use it and then close it up again. We'd put a tiny bit of food into her mouth so she could get a taste. Both Aisling and my Dad were peg fed next to each other. We were all trying to keep the whole thing together.'
Throughout Aisling wanted to be at home.
'The day she went into hospital and her lungs were failing she had a do not resuscitate sign. She couldn't have been looked after the way she needed to be only at home.'
Unable to move her only form of communication was to make a noise through a baby monitor.
'She had the body of a child but the brain of an adult. She used to be such fun. There were four of us girls so you can imagine. She had a good social life and loads of girlfriends.
'She was just so beautiful, vibrant funny and cheeky. She wanted to have a child and all of that was robbed from Aisling.'
Aisling died on July 31, 2011, at home in Clonard aged 35.
'She had battled MND for six years. They call it the 1,000 day disease but Aisling was young and had a strong heart. She was so determined. Every time she deteriorated she said: "you adjust and life is life and your get on with it".
'Obviously she would have her low times and she'd say "I can't do this anymore" and then she'd get on with it.
'She would see her nieces and nephews and get great joy from that.'
Fiona is calling on the people of Wexford to support Vanessa Davey's fundraising event in June on World Motor Neurone Day, so no other young person has to go through what her sister went through once a cure is discovered.
'I'm sure there is a cure out there. They need money to fund the research. I keep hearing of more and more people around Wexford who are getting it.
'The ice bucket challenge raised lots of funds but they need more. There might be a genetic link. I think fundraising is vital.'
She said every day is a battle for MND sufferers and their families.
'Between trying to breathe and swallow they are literally fighting to do that every minute of every day. Aisling used to blink and make certain sounds but by the end only a few of us could understand her.'
Fiona said her sister would be happy to see money being raised through sharing her story, painful as it was to do so.
Aisling died on August 2, 2011 and Ray died in April of the following year.
'Her illness literally killed Dad because he couldn't stand to see Aisling like that. The strain caused oesophageal cancer because Aisling was a vitally important member of our pack. Within a six month period we lost Aisling and my Dad.'