Healthy and active, Tyrone GAA fan Eamonn was just 36 years of age when he passed away from a diabetic coma on Christmas Eve, and his close-knit family now want to raise awareness of the dangers of Type One Diabetes.
Aileen O’Kane cherishes the photo of herself and her late older brother Eamonn at the 2003 All Ireland Final against Armagh: “That photo literally just captures us in the moment of the final whistle of 2003 - which I think is clear from our beaming faces! We are the picture of pure happiness.
“I have such fantastic memories from that amazing day - it was incredible fun. There was a feeling of complete euphoria. I have that picture blown up here at home as it is a day I will never forget.”
But tragedy was to strike the family just a few years later, when fit and healthy Eamonn, who is pictured at the 2003 All-Ireland Final then aged 29, with Aileen, then 25, was diagnosed with Type One Diabetes just one and a half years before he sadly suddenly passed away on Christmas Eve in 2010, aged just 36 years old.
“A year and a half before he died, Eamonn was diagnosed with Type One Diabetes, which is very rare, especially as Eamonn was so sporty and played an awful lot of soccer. On that Christmas Eve, he was found having died suddenly of a diabetic coma in bed. It was so desperately sad, but it does just really highlight the seriousness of diabetes - I think sometimes people do not realise.
“It is very rare to go straight from being undiagnosed to suddenly being told you are type 1 and having to self-administer the injections, unless you have it from childhood, which Eamonn never did. But 18 months later, he was dead as a result of it.
“Eamonn was such a lovely, down-to-earth chilled out person, and he never let his diabetes bother him. He just got on with it, he never complained, and adjusted his way of living. So we possibly didn’t take it as seriously as we might have, just because he seemed to be coping so well. Even the doctors said he was coping brilliantly; but it just goes to show. It is a very serious illness and it is vital we raise awareness about it.”
Aileen adds Eamonn, who was fit and appeared healthy before his diagnosis, regularly played soccer and his only symptoms included ‘going to the toilet a lot and drinking a lot of water’.
GAA fans Aileen, alongside her elder brothers Eamonn and eldest brother Patrick, caught their father’s enthusiasm for Tyrone at a young age - but it been established for generations, with her grandparents having played for Derry GAA many years ago, and their own father even boasting a stint playing for St Pat’s Armagh GAA during school. “My poor mother who has passed away now, was from Antrim - so sadly, she never had many days out to Croke Park! We used to laugh saying our family had connections to all the counties. But for us of course, being Dungannon born and raised and with our dad being from Coalisland, it was always Tyrone for us.”
It was a passion Aileen shared with her close-knit brothers Eamonn and Patrick; (‘our other brother Ronan wasn’t interested’); and father Pat O’Kane, with the group often attending matches together.
“We attended all of those finals together: ‘03; ‘05; and ‘08,” Aileen explains enthusiastically. “We have such fantastic memories of all of them, but that photo in particular just captures the spirit of Eamonn. Eamonn was so happy and so laid-back. I think that picture just perfectly sums him up. It means the world to me. I remember Eamonn every time Tyrone play, and I know on September 2 he will be looking down at us cheering us on! I just hope he helps it go the right way, fingers crossed. Eamonn wouldn’t want anybody to be sad, and he would certainly be wanting Tyrone to win.
“You obviously have that feeling of ‘the last time I was at a final in ‘08, Eamonn was still with us, but you can’t have that bittersweet side to it. You can’t help but think of it, but you just have to focus on those happy memories, and remember those.
“You can’t be sad about it or you will drive yourself crazy. You just have to think he was a brilliant person, he was such a pleasure to people.
“For me, it is important that people still remember him, and I can help people to do that because I have such lovely memories. There are definitely a lot of flags and colours starting to come out now and it is all gearing up, it is so exciting to see. I just think it is great for the county and so exciting for the area. There is such a buzz about it, last week’s semi-final at Croke Park had such a brilliant atmosphere.”
See your GP if you have symptoms of type 1 diabetes: feeling very thirsty; peeing more than usual, particularly at night; feeling very tired; losing weight without trying; thrush that keeps coming back; blurred vision; cuts and grazes that aren’t healing. Type one diabetes symptoms can come on quickly, particularly in children.
Visit: nhs.uk/conditions/type-1-diabetes to learn more about type one diabetes.