Joe and Maria Moran, Westport. Photo: Frank Dolan

Team Moran, driven by love

I'VE known Joe Moran since we were young lads growing up at the Quay in Westport, writes Padraig Burns. Joe lived 'down the Green' in the early years of his life with his parents Joe Joe and Marie, brothers Peter and Mark and sister Keveen, before the family moved up to Springfield Drive, close to where we lived in McNeela Terrace.

Joe was the typical product of the Quay in those days. That meant he played football all day, every day. He had the classic 'educated left foot' but unlike most left footed players his right was not just for standing on.

Joe was good enough to play for every Westport United team that he was eligible to play for as well as being good enough to win a Connaught Cup medal in 1987 on the second last team from the town to win that competition. He blossomed that season under the guidance of manager John Herrick, who the club had brought in from Galway to revitalise the flagging fortunes of the senior team. Herrick, a former Irish senior international, had a management style that didn't take prisoners. It was his way or no way and Joe, along with everyone else, bought into the philosophy.

Herrick saw something in Joe and deployed him in a number of positions. He saw his left foot as a way of opening up defences as well as being a lethal weapon from set pieces.

What he didn't know about Joe Moran was that Joe should really not have been there at all. Patrick Joseph Moran was born on August 24, 1964. When he was eight months old his grandmother noticed a lump on the side of his back. It was a Saturday morning, his mother was at work, and a worried granny sent him to see Doctor Farrell with his aunt. At that stage Patrick Joseph was known as Joe. He never came home that morning. Instead, Bert Farrell sent Joe to Temple Street Hospital in Dublin.

Bert's worst fears were realised when the diagnosis came back. Joe had a childhood cancer called Wilms Tumour, a rare form of cancer that typically occurs in the kidney. It was very aggressive. He had surgery, with one kidney removed as well as all the muscles along one side of his back. Post op the prognosis left little room for doubt - he was either going to live or die. Patrick Joseph Moran lived. And he still is living.

The American band One Republic have a song called 'I lived' and it's an anthem for people living with Cystic Fibrosis but it could have been written with Joe Moran in mind.

'I owned every second that

this world could give

I saw so many places

The things that I did

Yeah, with every broken bone

I swear I lived

Until my moment comes

I'll say.. . I did it all'

Joe did it all and he's still doing it. The last few years have not been easy and there were times when he thought 'his moment' had arrived. He had to summon the courage last January to tell his four sons, Keelan, Patrick, Josh and Daniel, that he was going to die. His father, Joe Joe also. He doesn't know how he did it but he got the courage from somewhere.

His father just looked at him and couldn't say anything. The lads were brave but sad. "It was brutal but I had to tell them. I was left with about three weeks to live and I had to tell them I was going, that I was sorry to be leaving them," he recalls. All the time, Maria was by his side and holding his hand. Like always.

Maria is his wife. Maria Cunningham grew up beside Joe at the Quay. "Some lads go to the other end of the world for a wife, mine was over the wall next door," Joe laughs telling us.

It's not an exaggeration to say that Joe would not be telling us his story but for his wife. He wells up trying to find the words to describe how she has been for him but one word is enough. A four letter one called LOVE. She's been the constant since life started getting complicated in recent years.

He survived the operation as a baby and had a normal upbringing. Life took over then, as it does, and there was a mention but no alarm bells of blood pressure when doing a medical for a mortgage.

In 1996 a bad dose of tonsillitis caused problems and a doctor in Galvia was not happy. "He told us that the reaction that Joe had was not normal and someone would need to do a bit of fishing," remembers Maria. They got by and dealt with whatever they had to as issues cropped up.

The crux of where they are at today arose in 2006. Joe had high blood pressure and it was discovered that his potassium levels were uncontrollably low. There was an unsubstantiated diagnosis of a condition called Conns Syndrome, which is a disease of adrenal glands involving excess production of a hormone called aldosterone.

"They told us that getting Conns was equivalent to winning the lotto twice, it was that rare. The reason the diagnosis was unsubstantiated was that they would have had to take Joe off all his meds for a month to ascertain for definite that it was Conns and that was not an option," said Maria.

Joe was taking 20 potassium tablets daily and in 2008 started having serious heart problems. Breathlessness became an every day occurrence. Maria recalls Joe leaning up against the freezer with the door ajar to cool down. He had to have an ICD (implantable cardioverter-defibrillator) fitted to keep track of his heart rate. Sometimes the body can receive a shock from the ICD and Joe has been known to be thrown out of bed and his chair at the dinner table.

Life continued on. Joe stayed at work in Allergan until 2012 when it became impossible for him to continue. There were constant issues with his heart function, his kidney function and his potassium levels. All were interlinked yet all had to be treated separately.

Then, in September 2016, a crisis arrived. He had been unable to get anything on to his feet for weeks. Fluid was seeping through his skin. His insteps were raw from it. Apparently, it's normal for people suffering from heart failure. It looked like he was going to die on the 27th of the month.

"He was in the CCU in Galway and was on a new drug to support the heart. Then the ICD went off and it looked like Joe was not going to pull through. I had to ring everyone in Westport and get them to Galway. All I could think of at the time was that it was the same date that his mother had died in 2009. Everything started to deteriorate that day but somehow he stabilised over night and started to pick up," said Maria.

No one can medically explain why Joe Moran is still with us. As his doctor in Galway said to him last week, 'Keep doing what you're doing Joe'.

With a heart function of 30% a decision was taken to go to the Mater in Dublin for an assessment for a heart transplant. He had barely got there late on Saturday night when a doctor took one look at him and said he wasn't suitable.

"I was over 80kg and that was the cut off point," he said. Another blow. He was sent home, essentially to die. He had six weeks.

But a doctor by the name of Niamh Kieran in UH Galway was not going to give up. She had gotten to know Joe and Maria in Castlebar and wanted to start dialysis. Initially Joe wasn't sure. "I had so many setbacks that I just wasn't sure but Niamh was adamant."

He started dialysis one week before Christmas 2016 and was discharged on December 23. At 4 a.m. on Christmas Day he was on his way back to hospital by ambulance. He was breathless and his heart was under severe pressure. Youngest son, Daniel, was 18 on December 29 and Joe wanted to be there for that. He made it back home but was very ill.

When he got home last January he was meant to die there. Palliative care was in place to look after his needs.

Joe Moran's story is a remarkable one. He has had to tell his family that he was going to die. He has listened to doctors tell him he has between six and nine weeks left to live. He has lay in bed, struggling to breathe with his wife holding his hand overhearing a doctor outside say that 'my friend Joe will die tonight'.

He told Maria that night that he wasn't ready to die then and he didn't. But isn't it amazing how strong the human will is to keep on living. And the strength of a love between two people and their children.

In the midst of it all Joe and Maria keep living. Dialysis is three times a week in Castlebar. Three and a half hours at a time. Maria sits with him for the sessions. Just like she always has. It wears Joe out and he has to go to bed afterwards but that's a small price to pay for being here.

Maria says that every day is a good day. The last few years has changed them and made them realise what is and what is not important.

They cannot speak highly enough of their neighbours in Cogaula and the community at large. "We have had incredible support from everyone. Not just words but practical support. We could not speak highly enough of Westport United and the Order of Malta, they have both been amazing," said Maria.

They have met some fantastic professionals through their journey. They mention people like Dr. Niamh Kieran, nurse Mary O'Sullivan, Dr. Sharon Collins and Tom Treacy (pharmacist). They talk of the fun times too, like when Joe was in the CCU in Galway and in walked son Pat, carrying the Super League trophy he had helped Westport United to win the previous day.

There you have it. A story of illness and yet perseverance in the face of the most awful adversity.

Mostly though it's a story of love and its power. Joe isn't ready to go anywhere yet and Maria won't let him in any case.

It's a story of Team Moran. Oh and in case you were wondering, they did manage a weekend away in Kilronan Castle and there were no emergencies from home to disturb them this time. Good man Josh.


Read Padraig Burns' Under the Clock every Tuesday in our print edition