Northern Ireland

Monaghan man returns to Gaelic football after life-changing surgery

Andrew Kieran Image copyright John Kieran
Image caption Andrew Kieran returned to playing for his club team Killanny in June

A County Monaghan man who is back playing Gaelic football months after having his large bowel removed, says he wants to be an inspiration to others.

Andrew Kieran now has an ileostomy bag after the surgery to treat his Ulcerative Colitis.

Andrew, a former Ulster Minor Championship winner with Monaghan in 2013, was diagnosed with the condition in May 2014.

The initial symptoms included fatigue and passing blood.

In the difficult years that followed, he would at one point weigh just seven stone, almost die from sepsis and spend one period of seven and a half weeks in hospital.

Several different treatments were tried - including drugs, steroids and blood tranfusions - until he decided to undergo surgery in January of this year.

Image copyright John Kieran
Image caption At one point Andrew weighed just seven stone due to his illness

Just five months later, the 22 year old played his first game of Gaelic football for three years for his club team Killanny in a Monaghan Senior Football League victory over Truagh Gaels.

Now, he says, he wants to help others with similar conditions.

"I had very dark days where I didn't really see a way out, but if you can hold onto those positive thoughts, even if they're very small, they will blossom and there will be hope at the end of the day," he said.

"I'd just love to be that person that they can look up to and say 'There's that guy, look what he's doing with his life, look what he's doing with something that historically has been surrounded by a stigma'".

The eight-hour operation involved the removal of his whole large bowel, which was ulcerated, and then a piece of his small intestine was brought through his abdomen to create an opening called a stoma.

Image copyright John Kieran
Image caption Andrew played Gaelic football in the same teams as his twin brother Adam

Everything he digests now goes through that and into an ileostomy bag.

Andrew said the decision to undergo the operation has given him his life back.

"At times there were periods of remission, but they were very very short, only weeks of remission, before I just relapsed into symptoms of bleeding, of losing weight, fatigue," he said

He said this continued until he returned from a trip to Glasgow with friends with food poisoning - the only one of the group to get it.

"I ended up in hospital and I just said 'I can't go on with my life like this, can't go on missing these opportunities, missing living life like a normal young lad'."

Andrew said while the years not being able to take part in the sport he loved - and played alongside his twin brother Adam - had been difficult, he never gave up hope.

Image copyright John Kieran
Image caption He said he had some dark days due to Ulcerative Colitis, but never gave up hope that he would return to playing Gaelic football

"There were times when I was told 'don't get your hopes up too much, you probably won't get back to football'," he said

"I took that advice, but inside my head I thought 'I'm getting back, I don't need any of this negativity around me'.

"I never fell into a sort of depressed daze or a dark area, because I knew I was going to kick football again - didn't know when - but it was always going to happen, I had that inside me."

After his surgery, Andrew began work with a personal trainer to get his weight and fitness back.

Image copyright John Kieran
Image caption Andrew said his teammates were always very supportive of him throughout his illness

"It started off very slow and hard and to be honest I wasn't too sure how I was going to cope with it, with this new addition to my body [the ileostomy bag].

"But there's so many belts out there, weights belts, there's belts there for daily use, for gyming, for playing football, for swimming. There's so many varieties out there for people with an ileostomy that there's nothing holding you back," he said.

Andrew's father, John, said when his son was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis they read about the condition, visited forums and made some friends among people in a similar situation.

"We reached out and got some help from people. Now it's about how can we help," he said.

Image copyright John Kieran
Image caption Andrew now wears an ileostomy bag and a belt and said he does not feel at all limited

Mr Kieran said that to see his son playing again was very emotional.

"It was a fantastic day for the family," he said.

"So far the reaction and reception he's received for being so brave is just fantastic."

Andrew said he has a new perspective on life: "I just want to enjoy life, go back to my education and, at the same time, try to help other people who are going through some dark days, who don't really see any hope or way out of the difficulties they're in."

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