Chair of Council opens up about his rare illness with less than 700 other diagnosed cases

Now just under six months in the job, the Chair of Fermanagh and Omagh District Council, Chris Smyth, has opened up about his diagnosis with a rare disorder during his first few years as a fledging councillor.

It was in 2016 that Chris Smyth, then aged 23 and a bit over two years into his position as Councillor for the Omagh area, underwent testing at South West Acute Hospital, and was diagnosed with Rosai-Dorfman Disease. This disorder, caused by an overproduction and accumulation of a specific type of white blood cells in the body’s lymph nodes, is incredibly rare, with only around 650 cases documented since its first mention in medical literature in 1969.

Councillor Smyth was made the youngest ever Fermanagh and Omagh Council Chair in June.

The Ulster Unionist Councillor spent about a month in hospital, a period which he recounts as being “awfully lonely and boring”, as “times and days all rolled into each-other”. It was especially because of this that the Mr Smyth was determined to “get back into the swing of things” with his council business, as he got more able near the end of his hospitalisation.

Councillor Smyth then said that, after being in hospital for such a long period, “give back a bit” to the ward that had looked after him, as he went on to start a fundraiser and get his legs waxed for charity. The event garnered around £900 in donations, an amount which came as a surprise to the Councillor and made him remark “who knew inflicting pain on a politician is something people would pay through nose for?”.

Overall, Councillor Smyth highlighted that one of his biggest takeaways from his time in hospital was a renewed appreciation for the importance of the NHS, and how “lucky we are to live in a place with a free-health care system”. This appreciation could’ve been from that financial side, with the Councillor being told at the time the treatment he received could’ve cost “anywhere from twenty to forty thousand pounds”, or even that more human aspect, recounting the importance of a “nurse who would speak to [him] through a screen for ten minutes a day”.

Now, having been elected on June 2nd as the youngest Chair in Fermanagh and Omagh council history, Councillor Smyth says he hopes his work will go on to encourage other young people to get involved with their local politics so that there can be more fresh voices in the Council’s discourse. Among the signs that make the Omagh-native optimistic is that he lost his previously held title of youngest elected councillor at the 2019 local government elections, even if that was a bit bittersweet.

Going on into 2021, the Council Chair had a final message of hope going forward, that, even though this is has been an “extraordinary year”, “there is an end in sight…and maybe, when we exit this, it will make us appreciate the things we took for granted, like a hug from a friend or seeing your family up close”.

Anyone affected by the topic of this article or wishing to know more about Rosai-Dorfman Disease can read more on the website of the National Organisation for Rare Disorders (https://rarediseases.org/).

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