Inspirational Woman with Cystic Fibrosis Overcomes Health Challenges and is Determined to Help Others

By Rebecca McGirr

Rachel McHugh was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at six weeks old.

She has went through experiences that many of us could never imagine.

To say that she is inspirational is short of an understatement.

Her childhood consisted of frequent hospital visits to the Royal Victoria in Belfast where she would have to stay two weeks at a time.

 She says, “I always hated going to hospital, it was such a long way from home and we had a dog which I hated having to leave.”

“Parts of it were scary, but to be honest I had a great childhood. Because of my condition we were told that sea air was really good so my mum and dad got a caravan in Rossnowlagh in Donegal, so I spent all my summers there and that really helped my health as well.”

And although she struggled with the effects of the condition for many years she says that the drug Orkambi which she was put on 7 years ago, was “completely life changing.”

“I used to be very thin. As a child of CF you are told all the time you have to gain weight, but I found it very difficult because I had no appetite.”

“We were on a high fat diet so I would have been able to eat chips and ice cream, everything I wanted, but it’s quite different when you are forced to do that.”

“But once I started Orkambi, Oh my gosh! I can’t stop eating. I’m at a healthy weight, I have no issues with that now. My lung function has increased by 15 percent. I’m able to do more things. I don’t think I would have been able to spend all the time at uni that I did, as I don’t think I would have had the energy.”

Rachel had faced many challenges and because of this she became determined to help others like herself. She achieved a PhD in psychology at the University of Ulster and is now a qualified doctor.

She says, “Many people have helped me in my life and I get a great feeling from helping other people. I feel that I am able to understand peoples struggles and understand what it is like to feel certain ways, and if I can help anybody in anyway, and make their life a bit easier, then I’d be a happy person.”

Rachel says that having CF has made her family “a lot closer,” and “we are very open and honest with each other.”

She says, that both her parents are “so strong and so motivated and I definitely think that’s where I got that from.”

“Without my condition and without my parents I wouldn’t be the person I am, and I’m really grateful.”

“Not that I’m glad I have it, but in a way I am, because it has made me the person that I am and the experiences that I have had have helped me help other people.”

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