Losing a grandparent is never easy and some children find it more difficult to cope than others. But when Hannah Noonan’s grandfather died earlier this year, she turned her grief into something positive by launching a fundraiser to raise awareness and funds for research into idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, the condition that claimed his life.
During the first lockdown, my little brother (Mikey) and I shared jokes on Instagram to cheer everyone up,” she says. “Grandfather was our biggest fan and always sent us jokes to use – he was great at telling them and loved making people laugh. So I thought it would be a good idea to do something similar to raise awareness of the illness Grandpa was living with before he died and came up with #HaveALaughForPF.
“I’ve spent my summer texting a lot of different people and asking them to send me a joke. These include politicians from both sides of the border, athletes like the Limerick hurling team and Jurgen Klopp, the manager of Liverpool, Limerick author Roisin Meaney and various television and radio personalities. And to find out who responded, people can search #HaveALaughForPF on social media between now and September 30.”
The 11-year-old from Limerick says she was inspired by her grandfather Tony Devlin, who loved to tell jokes, and says it’s the perfect way to remember him while raising money.
“My grandfather was a great fundraiser and raised a lot of money for great causes throughout his life,” she says. “He also had a great sense of humor and loved making people laugh – he was always telling jokes to Mikey and I. Hosting a fundraiser where jokes are told is the perfect way to remember him and raise awareness about pulmonary fibrosis.”
Hannah’s mother Sharon says her father was diagnosed with the disease in 2019 and although he managed to survive the pandemic, he died earlier this year, just weeks before his 76th birthday.
“I live in Newcastle West, Co. Limerick, where my husband Michael is from, but my parents, Tony and Elizabeth, are from Ballymena, Co. Antrim, where my brother Mark, sister Jo and I grew up,” she says. Dad came from a long line of greengrocers and had businesses in Ballymena and Broughshane which he ran with my mum before he retired a few years ago – around that time he started getting a little tired and an annoying dry cough to feel.
“He went to the doctor and this led to a series of tests – then he was finally diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in late 2019. The biggest challenge at first was the persistent dry cough, which he found difficult to control at first and found it embarrassing when he was outside anywhere.
“Then the pandemic was a big problem for him because he was in a high-risk category, so he wasn’t going out or having visitors at all even when the restrictions were eased. However, he came across the Northern Trust’s Pulmonary Fibrosis Support Group and it gave him renewed vitality. He really enjoyed the Zoom support meetings and I’ve been told by members of the group that he really enjoyed them.
He was also involved with the Irish Lung Fibrosis Association and participated in initiatives they offered, including their Patient Information Days. Dad was known for singing at gatherings, so he particularly enjoyed the Sing Strong for Lung Health group sessions with Limerick’s Ciara Meade – and he also took online exercise classes taught by Dr. Kate Devanney from the University of Limerick Physiotherapy Program.”
But while her father initially coped well with his condition, it wasn’t long before his condition worsened – and sadly, he lost the battle six months ago, three years after diagnosis. “My dad passed away in March of this year,” says Sharon, who is a freelance director of marketing. “In February he was in excruciating pain and was hospitalized for the first time since having his appendix removed as a teenager. Cancer was diagnosed while there and he underwent palliative radiation therapy before returning home.
“I went to Antrim a few weeks later for a quick visit to celebrate my mum’s birthday in March – and I was very aware that this could be her last with dad. Shortly after I arrived, Dad and I had a nice chat about the great times we’d enjoyed together – but it took a turn that evening, which was a Thursday, and paced the next few days before returning the following Tuesday died tomorrow.”
The family was devastated by Tony’s death, but Sharon says her children have benefited from the openness with which they continue to remember him and the fundraiser set up in his memory.
“Unfortunately, my children have experienced the death of loved ones from a young age, so they are very resilient,” says Sharon. “When Hannah was only five years old, her paternal grandmother, to whom she was very close, died and she sang at the beginning of the requiem mass, to which she received spontaneous applause. We spoke openly about Grandpa being bad and said he would die like Nana, although we weren’t sure when.
“Hannah wanted to know if she would sing at his funeral, which she did – being involved with the funeral and leading this campaign definitely made her feel like she was doing something special in his memory. She never tires of hearing how proud her grandpa would be of her.”
“It’s good to try and be positive and focus on remembering the good times you shared together – you wouldn’t want us to be sad.”
He would no doubt be delighted to have his granddaughter follow in his footsteps, as the Antrim Man has long been an avid fundraiser himself. “Throughout his life, Dad would regularly raise money for various causes,” says Sharon. “Hannah overheard him discussing donations to the Northern Trust’s Pulmonary Fibrosis Support Group and how important it was to him that we as a family support them to show our gratitude for all the support he had received from them.
“He thought they were a wonderful group of people and along with the Irish Lung Fibrosis Association gave him so much reassurance, information and also lots of laughs at a very difficult time. He also had a great sense of humor and loved telling jokes to his grandchildren – he always encouraged Hannah and Mikey to tell a joke online every day during the initial lockdown, which led to them appearing on RTÉ One The Today Show with Maura & Daithi.
“His love of laughter and fundraising, as well as laughter as a great lung exercise, makes #HaveALaughForPF the perfect campaign to raise awareness, raise money and bring a little fun into people’s lives.
“We are so incredibly grateful for the amazing support from his GP practice and palliative care nurses who made it possible for him to stay at home so that we could be with him when he passed away. But while we all knew his time was limited, it still came as a shock and we all miss him terribly.
“My advice to anyone who has recently been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, or who knows someone who has it, would be to get in touch with the Northern Trust Pulmonary Fibrosis Support Group (northtrustpfsg.com) and the Irish Lung Fibrosis Association (ilfa.ie) to take advantage of the support offered – they were fantastic.”
Hannah’s campaign will be featured on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook throughout September using the hashtag #HaveALaughForPF: “People are welcome to (email me at email@example.com) a joke that they pass on to Hannah or share their own joke on social media with #HaveALaughForPF,” says Sharon. “There is also a JustGiving page: justgiving.com/fundraising/havealaughforpf for anyone who would like to make a donation to the Northern Trust Pulmonary Fibrosis Support Group.”
Hannah encourages everyone to join in the fun – And for all other young people who have lost someone, she says it’s a great way to remember them. “It’s good to try to be positive and focus on remembering the good times you shared together,” she says. “They wouldn’t want us to be sad.”
About idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis
- IPF is a progressive lung disease in which scarring (fibrosis) causes the alveoli in the lungs to thicken and harden. This disrupts the normal transfer of oxygen into the bloodstream, leading to low oxygen levels and shortness of breath.
- Symptoms include shortness of breath, which over time can lead to fatigue, lack of energy, and poor concentration.
- Other symptoms include a dry, nonproductive cough, thickened fingertips, excess stomach acid, and pulmonary hypertension (increased blood pressure in the lungs).
- IPF is usually diagnosed in people over the age of 50 and is most common in men.
- It mainly affects people who have smoked, but non-smokers can also develop IPF.
It is not contagious, but in about 5 percent of cases, the condition is later diagnosed in an affected person’s family members.
https://www.independent.ie/life/health-wellbeing/health-features/granddad-loved-making-people-laugh-fundraising-by-telling-jokes-is-the-perfect-way-to-remember-him-11-year-old-hannah-noonan-41980318.html “Grandfather loved to make people laugh – fundraising by telling jokes is the perfect way to remember him” – 11-year-old Hannah Noonan