Until we can hug again
Mary Anne Sweeney has worked with the Irish Heart Foundation for five years and her reasons for working for the charity are personal. Mary Anne lost both her parents to cardiovascular disease and she is determined to help others that may find themselves in a similar situation
When Mary Anne was 14 her father Michael suffered from a severe stroke and sadly when she was 20 he passed away from heart failure. Tragically her mum Margaret died 10 years later at the age of 71 from an inherited heart condition.
Mary-Anne has one older brother also named Michael who she also describes as her best friend.
“We are absolutely best friends. Our family unit growing up it was my mom, my dad, Michael and me, we were so tight. We were like the Four Musketeers always together it was a really nice relationship.”
When Mary Anne was 14 her father Michael suffered from a severe stroke
There was a 20-year age gap between her mother and father, he was 50 and she was 30 when they married. They waited 11 years for Mary Anne and Michael who arrived in quick succession to the huge joy of their parents.
“My mom always used to say that when she first married my dad, with the age difference, at night she would lie in bed listening to his heartbeat, just thinking, I’m going to be without him at some point, I’m going to lose him,” Mary Anne said.
When Mary Anne was just 14 and her brother Michael 16, her father suffered a severe stroke that robbed him of the ability to communicate. He developed heart failure and was bed-bound for the last three years of his life.
His loving family rallied round and Mary Anne and Michael sacrificed their teenage years to help their mother care for their father who was severely impacted by both the physical and emotional impacts of his major stroke.
Mary Anne recalls going to visit her father in hospital after this stroke and the sight of her dad, once so strong and fit, with tubes down his throat, was a difficult scene for a young girl to absorb. Over time her father recovered and regained his mobility however, the stroke left him with severe aphasia which robbed him of his ability to communicate.
“He couldn’t communicate and he didn’t fully understand things all the time. His personality changed, he definitely suffered depression. He was trapped in his body,” Mary-Anne explained.
“My mother was heartbroken she was so lost and stressed, but she had two teenagers. And now a husband who had a stroke, and he can’t speak and she’s scared he’s going to have another one,” she added.
" His personality changed, he definitely suffered depression. He was trapped in his body,”
Mary-Anne’s father lived for just six short years after his stroke and he sadly died from heart failure at the age of 83.
When he was diagnosed and hospitalised with heart failure Mary Anne said there was little or no information available to the family. Her mother spent every moment by her husband’s side in hospital as she worried about the impact his aphasia would have on his understanding of the experience.
“She would never leave him alone never, because she knew he would get scared,” Mary Anne recalled.
After years of dedicating every waking moment to caring for her husband, Mary Anne recalls that when he died, her mother stayed holding his arm calling to him to “wake up, stay with us Michael, don’t leave me.”
“Even though he was sick for so long, and caring for him entailed so much stress, pressure and heartache, she would have kept doing it for 1,000 more years just to be with him. That’s what was amazing; the love they had between them,” she said.
Little did Mary Anne and her brother know then that in just 10 more years they were to tragically lose their mother to an underlying inherited heart condition.
“The only comfort that my brother and I got after she passed away was knowing that she’s back with my dad, that they are together again and she’s not missing her other half,” Mary Anne said.
" I want to tell him here's just a little bit of love to hold you over until I get to hug you.”
Mary Anne now lives in Ireland where she is married to her husband Tim Curley. They have two beautiful children together so she has formed her own loving band of four musketeers.
She still misses her parents desperately and unfortunately due to Covid-19 she hasn’t seen her brother Michael who still lives in the US for almost two years, but they video call twice a week.
This Valentine’s Day Mary Anne is sending a very special heart card from the Irish Heart Foundation to her brother to let him know she is thinking of him and to remember their parents.
“I want to send a message to my brother. We have been hit so badly by heart disease. I haven’t been able to see him physically for a really long time and I don’t know when I’m going to get to see him again. So, on Valentine’s Day, I just want to send him a little bit of love from across the ocean…even though we’re apart, we’re still a family unit, and an ocean doesn’t stop us from being together. I want to tell him we will see each other again but in the meantime, here’s just a little bit of love to hold you over until I get to hug you.”