Stephen Ryan, who cannot cycle or play sport and who is afraid of slippery leaves and wet manhole covers, is over the moon that Enable Ireland has finally got the kind of facility it needs to match the “amazing staff” and the “amazing services” the charity provides.
Stephen, who has broken more than 50 bones in his lifetime on account of agenetic disorder known as osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), or brittle bone disease, was in and out of the Lavanagh Centre in Ballintemple — formerly the Cork Spastic Clinic — throughout his childhood.
Now as the father of two children who also have OI — Julia, 10, and Cathal, 8, —his contact with Enable Ireland continues into parenthood.
Stephen tells the audience gathered yesterday to celebrate the opening of a new €7.5m Lavanagh Centre in Curraheen, Co Cork, that being able to bring his children for therapy sessions to a purpose-built and well-equipped facility “will make a huge difference” — and not just for his kids.
Enable Ireland helped him get where he is today — the founder of marketing consultancy Narration.
“Impossible is nothing,” he says, quoting boxing legend Muhammed Ali.
“Looks like I’ve been given a couple of impossible things to do,” quipped Brexit-stricken Tánaiste Simon Coveney, on hand to cut the ribbon along with nine-year-old Hannah Morrissey, who has arthrogryposis (congenital joint contracture).
Today is about families seeing something they never thought they would see
Enable Ireland CEO John O’Sullivan said the new centre was 20 years in the pipeline, with a few false dawns along the way. Then someone spotted the Curraheen site, formerly home to the ESB social club, up for sale, and they went from there.
The HSE came on board in 2016 with a €2m grant and this was “the vital recognition” needed to legitimise the project, said Donal Cashman, chairman of Enable Ireland board of directors. Another €1m remains to be raised and Mr O’Sullivan is hopeful that the people of Cork will once again respond generously, as they have done to date.
The centre, on a seven-acre site, is “full of light,colour, and joy” as the Tánaiste put it, and was yesterday teeming with children enjoying the festivities. Among them was Adam King, from Killeagh, Co Cork, who has OI and is in a wheelchair.
His mother, Fiona King, says they travelled to and from the old centre in Ballintemple for years and are looking forward to coming to Curraheen where they can get car parking outside the door and where the parking spaces are an adequate size.
Fiona says Enable Ireland has worked wonders for Adam to date — he’s even taken a few steps — and she attributes his progress to that all-important early intervention.
The new centre boasts purpose-built assessment and treatment rooms, all fitted with hoists, a hydrotherapy pool, meeting rooms, preschool supports, playground, sensory room, gym, and family facilities.
Lavanagh House, a three-bed respite house, is also on-site, with work under way to ensure it can be used seven nights a week rather than the current day respite service. More than 800 children will utilise vital therapy and support services at the centre each year.