Westcliff PE teacher takes up the challenge after brain surgery

Colleagues and pupils from a school in Westcliff-on-Sea joined a teacher in a challenge raising £4,000 to date for The National Brain Appeal.

Eamonn Kearney, a PE teacher at St Thomas More High School had been due to take part in the London Marathon to raise money for The National Brain Appeal, the charity dedicated to raising vital funds for the hospital where he had awake brain surgery in February 2019.

To mark the day when he would have been running in the event, postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he, fellow teachers and pupils from St Thomas More High School in Westcliff-on-Sea took part in the 2.6 Challenge.

The challenge involves doing anything that involves the numbers 2.6 or 26, as in the number of miles in a marathon and the date that the London Marathon would have taken place (April 26).

The challenge also has to be compliant with Government lockdown measures.

Eamonn, 30, from Southend, completed 26 miles, a combination of running and cycling on the seafront, over the course of the weekend, as well as attempting 26 keepy-uppies with a football (see video below).

St Thomas More pupils completed a variety of challenges including running laps of their gardens, roller-blading, cycling and keepy-uppies.

Many of Eamonn’s fellow teachers got involved too, including Rob Leamy running up and down the Southend cliff steps for 26 minutes, Tom Harding’s football dribblethon and Tom Wiltshire’s 26 minute DJ set.

When he was 18, keen footballer Eamonn was returning from a football trip to Russia when he had a full tonic-clonic seizure on the plane.

He was diagnosed with epilepsy. Scans showed an abnormality called focal cortical dysplasia in the left frontal lobe of his brain, where lesions were causing his seizures. He was put on medication and monitored with scans every six months.

But the medication had no effect and Eamonn continued to have seizures, usually about five times a day.

Eamonn said: “It was frustrating. The tablets didn’t do anything to stop the seizures. When they happened I wouldn’t be able to speak even though I knew what I wanted to say. “

However, Eamon didn’t let it get in the way of anything he wanted to do. He went to university and then trained to be a PE teacher St Thomas More High School, where he had also been a pupil.

In February 2017, his neurologist referred him to Professor John Duncan, a leading expert in epilepsy at The National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London. He started the process of testing for possible surgery.

Professor Duncan introduced Eamonn and his parents to consultant neurosurgeon Mr Andrew McEvoy, who specialises in epilepsy surgery and awake craniotomy. He explained that carrying out the operation while Eamonn was awake would reduce the risk of damaging critical areas of his brain.

Eamonn was admitted to the Molly Lane Fox Unit, a specialist ward at The National Hospital funded by The National Brain Appeal charity. His surgery went ahead on February 14 2019. He was under anaesthetic when part of his skull was removed and then woken up when they started to remove the lesion.

Eamonn said: “It was a very strange experience. The lesion was located in the part of my brain that controls my speech so they were asking me lots of questions, showing me photos of animals and keeping me talking.”

The operation took eight and a half hours, an anxious day for Patrick and Bridie. They were hugely relieved to see him in the evening and were told it had been a great success. Whilst he was understandably groggy, Eamonn felt better than he expected.

He hasn’t suffered a single seizure since.

Eamon said: “The care from all the staff during my time in the hospital and during my recovery, was nothing short of unbelievable. I’m so grateful to them.”

In addition to Eamonn’s fundraising for The National Brain Appeal, colleagues and pupils from St Thomas More High School are also fundraising for the charity’s Emergency Fund for NHS staff at The National Hospital and also for Southend Hospital Charitable Foundation’s COVID-19 Rapid Response Appeal.

Eamonn said: “Raising money for The National Brain Appeal is my way of saying thank you to all of the incredible staff at The National Hospital. My life has been transformed by their fantastic care and expertise.”

To support Eamonn’s fundraising for The National Brain Appeal go to https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/eamonnkearney-marathon2020

To support St Thomas More High School’s fundraising go to: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/StThomasMoreHighSchool

Eamon Kearney’s keepy uppy challenge for The National Brain Appeal

Mick Ferris

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