Farewell to a Hero

Vicky Phelan was the champion of the underdog, the unheard, the unseen and the unrepresented. 

by Rose Barrett
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Although suffering from a terminal disease, she led with such conviction and authority that by the time her death was announced on Monday morning, she was forever in our affections as a national hero. 

The passing at Milford Hospice in Limerick of the brave and brilliant 48-year-old sent waves of sadness across the country because everyone knew she had put her heart and soul into saving the lives of countless people by refusing to be bought off by officialdom. 

She was the embodiment of decency as she became the face and voice representing woman who suffered or died from cancer, as a result of Ireland’s flawed Cervical Check programme. 

Having been diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2014, she had taken a smear test in 2011 which was returned ‘clear’ but three years later, she was given a cancer diagnosis. 

An internal Cervical Check audit found the 2011 smear check result to be wrong. She took a case through the High Court against US company Clinical Pathology Labs and in April 2018, was awarded €2.5m without admission of liability. She also sued the HSE but that case was struck out. 

It was her persistent campaigning and keeping the scandal on media platforms that resulted in the Scally Independent Investigation and the 2018 report into the Cervical Check debacle. 

It in turn led to the establishment of the 221+ support group and ultimately, a State apology. In 2020, at the height of the Covid pandemic, Ms Phelan confirmed she had developed new tumours and moved temporarily to the US for new treatment. 

The Taoiseach, Micheál Martin and Tánaiste Leo Varadkar joined in the many heartfelt tributes paid to the Limerick mother of two this week. 

Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly stated: “Vicky leaves a legacy of enormous and enduring impact which has touched the lives of many people, and in particular, women and families affected by cervical cancer. My thoughts are with her family and many friends on this sad day.” 

Vicky Phelan
Vicky Phelan on The Late Late Show Picture Andres Poveda

Her total honesty during her ongoing trauma as well as her lost time as a mother was understood by all, in particular the women who had survived cervical cancer and families who had lost loved ones to the disease. 

Born in 1974, she lived in Limerick with her husband Jim, children Darragh and Amelia, parents and extended family. 

Having worked in the education sector, colleagues and people who knew her well described her as having “endless energy”, “bubbly”, “strong”, “determined”, “the voracity of a lion”, and always one to give a hug. 

Sadly, the tragedy here is the death of a young wife and mother, whose terminal diagnosis might otherwise have been averted. 

The Dublin Gazette wishes to extend our deepest sympathy to her family and friends. She was a true treasure of our time, an extraordinary woman of her time who ended up doing extraordinary things for this generation and generations to come. 

Ar Dheis Dé go raibh a h-anam dhílis.

Featured Image: Vicky Phelan

Photo: Leah Farrell/RollingNews.ie

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