Respiratory physician joins hospital cystic fibrosis team

The Cystic Fibrosis Team at Galway University Hospitals, from left: Geraldine Kelly, clinical nurse specialist; Dr Michael O’Mahony, consultant respiratory physician; and Dr Maram Alkhatib, senior house officer. 

The Cystic Fibrosis Team at Galway University Hospitals, from left: Geraldine Kelly, clinical nurse specialist; Dr Michael O’Mahony, consultant respiratory physician; and Dr Maram Alkhatib, senior house officer. 

The first physician in the west of Ireland dedicated to the treatment of adults with cystic fibrosis has been appointed at Galway University Hospitals [University and Merlin Park].

Dr Michael O’Mahony, a consultant respiratory physician, moved here in mid March from New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, where he had completed a three year fellowship in pulmonary and critical care medicine. He subsequently held a faculty appointment for two years as an attending physician in the area of pulmonary and critical care medicine.

A graduate of University College Cork he completed his early training at Cork University Hospitals and his subsequent specialist training at the national cystic fibrosis unit at St Vincent’s University Hospital and the department of respiratory medicine at the Royal College of Surgeons at Beaumont Hospital, Dublin.

He says he expects to see a rise in the number of patients with this genetic disorder of the lungs and digestive system attending the facility.

“I am delighted to be joining the CF team in Galway and my colleague Dr Mary Herzig, consultant paediatrician and director of paediatric CF services at UHG. We expect the number of adult patients with CF attending the hospital to increase in the future with patients choosing to access specialist care in Galway rather than travel to specialist centres in Dublin.”

He says because the condition has such a “significant” impact on sufferers and their families it is important to continually strive to improve the services the hospital provides and to support research initiatives.

“In this regard the Cystic Fibrosis Association of Ireland has been hugely supportive, providing funding for dedicated inpatient rooms, specialised equipment for CF patients and hiring of additional medical staff. Their support has also been instrumental in securing my appointment despite the very trying economic times we find ourselves in.”

Ireland has the highest incidence of cystic fibrosis in the world with one in 20 people carrying the gene. The disease affects the glands, damaging many organs including the lungs, the pancreas and the digestive system. About 1,200 people in this country have the condition. Around 60 patients from Galway, Mayo and Roscommon attend GUH - half of these are adults. The number of sufferers are increasing with improvements in care.

There are three specialised in-patient rooms for patients at UHG. These are single en suite rooms with climate control and air filtering systems to reduce the risk of cross infection. Additional in-patient facilities are also available at Merlin Park University Hospital.

Mary Lane Heneghan, the chairperson of the Galway Branch of the CF association, explains cystic fibrosis is Ireland’s most commonly inherited, life-threatening, genetic disease.

About one in 20 people in Ireland are carriers of the CF gene and where two carriers parent a child there is a one in four chance of the baby being born with the condition. CF carriers are healthy and totally unaware that they are carriers until they have a child with CF.

Treatment is intensive and people with CF have a daily routine of drugs, enzymes, physiotherapy, exercise and a high fat diet. Oral, inhaled and intravenous antibiotics are crucial for controlling recurring chest infections. High-energy foods supplemented by enzymes combat digestive problems while physiotherapy and exercise are important for fitness and for keeping the lungs clear.

“For a considerable number of CF patients a lung transplant is often the only remaining option,” she told this newspaper previously. “While therapeutic options have expanded in recent years, life expectancy and quality of life for people with CF can be significantly improved through a lung transplant.

“Now that the Mater Hospital’s lung transplant unit in Dublin is up and running we expect to see an increase in the number of CF patients receiving lung transplants. Welcome news was the recent announcement of the approval of a dedicated lung transplant surgeon there. This will mean that persons requiring a lung transplant will no longer have to travel to Newcastle in the UK.”

She says the life expectancy and quality of life for people with CF improves in direct proportion to the availability of proper medical care and facilities.

“The Galway Branch of the CF Association are continually fundraising to provide the basic facilities for the 60 plus patients with CF in the Galway area who attend UHG. It is critical that cystic fibrosis patients be treated in single rooms with en-suite facilities as the lack of segregation and isolation facilities poses a significant risk of cross infection by virulent organisms.

“Galway was one of the first hospitals outside of Dublin to get dedicated facilities for persons with CF. In September 2009 three single en-suite rooms were opened in St Anthony’s Ward for adults (over 16s ) which cost over €300,000 paid for out of voluntary contributions. CF Galway also funded a lung function laboratory and other medical equipment in UHG. A consultant physician with expertise in the treatment of adults with CF will shortly be joining the medical team. This is very welcome news.”

She says the Galway branch’s top three priorities are improved isolation en-suite facilities at UHG, the provision of additional specialist medical staff, and necessary medical equipment for patients.

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