Brave Fingal men share their battles with illness on RTE show

by Sylvia Pownall
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Billy Reilly, one of two brave Fingal men who shared their story on RTE

Two brave Fingal men won the support of the nation earlier this week as they laid bare their battles with illness.

Brian Byrne from Swords, who has an aggressive form of epilepsy, allowed TV cameras into the operating theatre as he went under the knife for complex brain surgery.

GAA-mad devoted dad-of-three Billy Reilly from The Naul also opened his heart – and his home – to RTE as he came to terms with a diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease (MND).

Their stories featured on the documentary My Broken Brain (aired on RTE One on Tuesday), and their courage in facing degenerative neurological conditions won wide praise.

Billy Reilly (47) was diagnosed with MND in August 2015. Deeply involved in GAA all his life, he is now in a wheelchair and has little use of his legs, but can still use his arms and hands.

He reveals of his diagnosis: “I remember saying, ‘This is a death sentence’. I knew.” His wife Sharon tells of her devastation at being told there is no cure as her husband’s thoughts turned to their two girls, Lauren and Rebecca, and their son, Billy.

He makes a series of recordings so he can still communicate through some of his favourite phrases when he no longer has a voice – and so that his kids have something to remember his sense of humour when he is gone.

Dishing out tongue-in-cheek advice, Billy tells them not to worry about school and exams because “There’s always McDonald’s. ‘Do you want fries with that?’ That’s all you have to learn.”

The brave dad is seen watching his son playing football, doing the crossword with the family and taking part in a clinical trial to help with his breathing.

Brian Byrne from Swords, who has severe intractable epilepsy, agrees to undergo complex and risky surgery after the seizures which have affected him since infancy become more violent and life-threatening.

As he deliberates over the procedure, he says: “It’s scary to think that you could end up losing part of your speech, and it will be a long recovery. But I just want to get back to normality.”

After his operation as family surround his bedside, his wife, Michelle O’Connor, tells the cameras: “I don’t think you really, really know what epilepsy is until you’re living with it on a daily basis.”

If you missed Tuesday night’s programme, you can watch it back on the RTE player.

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