WITH September being Worldwide Pulmonary Fibrosis Awareness Month, the family of David Coffey from Spa are eager to highlight and raise awareness of the disease, Pulmonary Fibrosis, which took the life of the 69-yearold in June of this year. David, originally from Crossgar and who attended Down High, travelled to PE college in Liverpool, and spent 18 years in England as a teacher where he played cricket and hockey for Preston.
On his return to Northern Ireland, he took up a post as a teacher in Lisburn. David was a lifelong sportsman, who played volleyball for NI in the ‘70s, was the first tennis coach at Downpatrick Tennis Club and ran the London Marathon in a time of three hours 21 minutes. Yet, despite a lifetime dedicated to sport, the former PE teacher was struck down by the debilitating disease, which forced him to stop most sporting endeavours in his later years. Never someone to give up, he got an Ebike which enabled him to cycle up until October 2022. Fay, David’s wife, told the Mourne Observer about the early signs, when the disease was starting to affect David.
Initially, he would be walking up a hill and feel surprisingly breathless. Given his fitness level, he thought it was strange. He also noticed while out cycling that going up a hill would be significantly more difficult and resulted in him needing recovery time to ‘catch’ his breath. David decided that further investigations were needed, and he attended the Downe Hospital for a chest X-ray. This was the start of his diagnosis journey and investigations took five months.
Fay said the symptoms can often be misunderstood and wrongly attributed to aging or being unfit. She added that the lesson she learned was that it is important to take note of everything. “The message is do not ignore signs. If you experience shortness of breath, unusual for you, get it checked out.” David’s journey and hospital experiences through his consultant, Dr Henry and Interstitial Lung Disease Nurse, Elaine Jackson, at the Ulster Hospital’s Respiratory Hub was exemplary. Fay emphasises that the team were incredible. “They couldn’t have done enough for him,” she said. “They always had his best interests, and our family’s, at heart.”
David was hospitalised many times and Fay reflects on how reassuring it was that “the ward was filled with caring and knowledgeable staff, who covered every aspect of care impeccably”. She added: “It was phenomenal!” Latterly, the Community Nurses and Palliative Team took over David’s care, at home. “Each staff member who visited our family home could not have been kinder,” Fay said.
Following on from the tremendous care David and his family received, they wanted to raise money for Pulmonary Fibrosis NI, so that the charity can continue to grow and support those in local communities who are dealing with this disease. Currently, there are only two drugs available for sufferers. They are designed to slow the rate of progression but cannot cure it.
By raising awareness, the family hopes more donations to the charity will provide opportunities for future research programmes to help expand knowledge and treatment options. In lieu of flowers, the family decided to encourage friends, family and colleagues to donate to Pulmonary Fibrosis NI. The family organised an event to celebrate David’s life and aptly it took place in Spa Golf Club, where David was a long-time member. It was held on the 30th of June this year. “How fitting, the last day of the school year, after 38 years of service in education,” Fay said. They thought his closest friends would turn up, but not many more. But they were surprised when over 240 came to remember his life. “It was staggering. What we found out as a family was that while he was an unassuming guy, there were many tributes that came in for him. “The only word you could say is humbling. “He loved to coach. He loved to teach sport, and he loved to play it, when he was fit to. Latterly, he had to watch it.” He had an important impact on so many people’s lives as a husband, father, coach and teacher.
Through the celebration of his life event, £1,400 was raised for the Pulmonary Fibrosis Northern Ireland Support Group. “As a family, we want to use his death to raise awareness of this illness/disease. A lot of people do not know anything about it. “There are a lot of people out there who are on this journey and don’t know what is out there for them. There is a very solid support system.” The advice Fay has for anyone who is not sure about the symptoms, or who wants to know more about the disease, is to contact the Pulmonary Fibrosis Northern Ireland Support Group.
The Mourne Observer contacted the group for more information on the illness. Tom McMillan is the chair of the board of trustees for the group. He said: “Northern Ireland has the highest prevalence of Pulmonary Fibrosis in the UK, with over 2,000 people suffering from this chronic, life-limiting disease. “Figures show there are more people in Northern Ireland with Pulmonary Fibrosis than with Leukaemia or Ovarian Cancer and yet very few people know about it. “Unfortunately, there is nothing people can do. “For Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis there is no known cause or cure. “The only hope for them is a transplant and only around one per cent of people successfully received a transplant. “At Pulmonary Fibrosis NI (PFNI) we are working hard to raise awareness about this horrible disease. “Anyone wanting further information about the work we do and the services we provide should make contact with us. “We provide guidance, information, signposting and valuable advice through our social media platforms, website and at weekly support group meetings. “We also provide respite care for sufferers and their carers. “David Coffey was a valued member of PFNI and is sadly missed by all of us.”
For more information, their website is https://pulmonaryfibrosisni.co.uk/ and you can find all the details there.