It started with a small pea-sized lump on her face and it ended up with Elaine Chillingworth bravely showing how she looks without her nose. The elegant and glamorous woman described on RTÉ's Hospital Live programme how devastating it was to be diagnosed with a rare cancer, desmoplastic melanoma in October 2017. Her maxillofacial surgeon advised that it would be much better to have a prosthesis than a reconstruction so that's what she opted for.
Elaine may well have surprised neighbours and acquaintances on the live show as it is likely many did not know she has a prosthetic nose. She bravely demonstrated how her new nose is attached. The extremely realistic nose was 3-D sculpted and fixes in places with magnets.
"This is my life now," she said as she praised her surgeon who she notes "saved my life". Elaine also said that she equipped herself to deal with the shocking diagnosis by asking lots of questions. She answered similar questions from presenter Anna Daly: 'Can you smell?' and 'Can you blow your nose?'
Yes, she can smell and possibly even better than before as her nose is more open, she noted. But she can't 'blow her nose' — a "lot of people ask me that but you can't do that as you can't get any traction".
She became emotional as she thanked chief maxillofacial prosthetist, Niall Murphy and consultant maxillofacial surgeon, Professor Gerry Kearns for their innovative care.
Elaine's dignity and courage was echoed in other stories highlighted in the first episode of a series running across three consecutive nights. Any of the people we met would be worth a whole show on their own, but overall we got interesting insight into some rare and some everyday illnesses — and the medical staff who look after the patients.
Annette O'Sullivan from Newcastlewest suffered with severe and debilitating pain for four years. She had her left kidney removed when tumours were discovered.
The pain came back. She described how she ended up with tears rolling down her face and using one of her son's sliotars to try to put pressure on her back to relieve the pain. She pursued a diagnosis by travelling to London. It was endometriosis. This condition can affect up to 10% of women.
Annette had robotic surgery at University Hospital Limerick. The cameras follow her as she goes on the final part of her journey and has her stent removed. Her delight at detailing how she has had "no pain since" is a pleasure to watch: "I am so optimistic about the future now."
She urged people who may feel they have a health issue — 'if you feel there is something wrong' — to get more opinions and to follow through.
A new medical device which may help reduce the wait time for endometriosis diagnosis from seven to 12 years down to three months was also showcased on the show.
Cork man, Diarmuid O'Connell, spoke about how CPR saved his life: the Cullen GAA fan says he was relatively fit — "up that point everything had been so normal... I was fit, didn't smoke and only drank socially" — when he just collapsed. The importance of CPR training was evident as Gerard O'Leary described how he was able to use his skills to save Diarmuid's life at the scene. Diarmuid has since had to give up football but has gotten married and has two lovely children.
And appropriately enough, Brigid Sinnott of the Irish Heart Foundation demonstrated how to perform CPR — to the beat of the Bee Gee's Stayin' Alive.
Other medical careers and conditions highlighted on the show included non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD); platelet donation; and speech and language therapy.
And Cork viewers may take some pride in neurosurgeon Tafadzwa Mandiwanza — she trained at University College Cork and now works at Temple St Children's University Hospital.
She was describing the gruelling brain surgery underwent by adorable little Kaydee. When she was just four years old, Kaydee had headaches and balance problems and had to have Foramen Magnum Decompression Surgery.
Ireland's first female paediatric neurosurgeon, Taffy Mandiwanza, led this major surgery: she calmly noted that even though the surgery went well she never celebrates until the patient is awake and back with her parents. She declared that Kaydee is doing very well and is "an absolute rockstar".
Kaydee has to go back for numerous checkups of course but the understated "we'll keep an eye on her" must be a superb reassurance for Kaydee's parents.