So, my friend Alisha.
Alisha was born on 5th of September 1979 in a small town close to Vancouver in British Colombia, Canada and was such a special person.
She arrived in Ireland in 2001 with Gabriella Mastromatteo (Gaby), a fellow Canadian who is still living in Ireland. The two Canadian girls automatically fitted into life in Ireland and made friends with everyone they met, especially with all of us in Athlone. She was like a mum to all of us, always had the best advice.
She was feeling unwell one day in early December 2002, but Alisha being Alisha didn't like to complain. But when that night she still had a really bad headache we decided to bring her to the doctor, who insisted we bring her straight over to the hospital in Ballinasloe.
They kept her in and started tests straight away as they suspected meningitis. She ended up in hospital there for weeks, although they kept telling her and us that she was fine and that she would be released in a few days, which never happened.
I went home for Christmas and got word on St Stephen's Day that she wasn't well, so my Mum and Dad brought me over to the hospital. It was the first time I was really worried, she was in so much pain and she couldn't speak. There were a good few of her friends there so we were all trying to keep spirits up, but we knew things weren't good. We went home and I got a phonecall in the middle of the night saying Alisha wasn't responding, but I stupidly thought they meant she was basically ignoring them, which I wasn't surprised about as I knew she was fed up with all of them.
But then I got another call a couple of hours later telling me she had fallen unconscious and that we should ring her parents to come over to Ireland.
So we got up and drove over to the hospital and she was in intensive care. It was terrible, that feeling of absolute helplessness. She was completely unresponsive, which we couldn't understand because they had told us she was fine. We wanted to move her to Galway regional hospital but didn't have the authority, so we had to wait until her mum arrived to be able to move her. Her mum was over within a day and they decided to move her to Galway. The only time she responded was when her mum arrived; she knew she was there and I think she was just waiting for that because once she arrived in Galway there was basically nothing they could do. They did their best, they really were brilliant and kept her alive for a couple of days. But then it came to decision time as they said her brain had been too badly damaged for her ever to be able to have a normal life again if she did regain consciousness.
On New Year's Day 2003, her amazing mum Jean had to make the horrendous decision that a person, especially a parent, hopes they will never have to make. She decided the best thing to do would be to turn off the machines. I feel extremely privileged to have been one of the three people there when that happened. There was Jean, Gaby and myself. It was an extremely strange experience. There were about 20 or more, I can't quite remember, of Alisha's friends in the hospital and Gaby and myself went out and spoke to all of them. We told them what was going to happen and for everyone to be thinking positive happy thoughts for Alisha, and then we went back to her. If someone was to tell me that I would witness one of my best friends die I think I would have imagined it to be a horrible experience, but strangely it was beautiful, thanks to the strength of her mum. Alisha was only 23 when she died.
The next week was all very fast and strange, but everyone was so helpful and amazing that it made the experience much more bearable. The college chaplin allowed us to use his house to have a wake for Alisha, which was brilliant; there was nothing religious about it, we just all celebrated her life and that has continued since. She was cremated and we brought her ashes to The Cliffs of Moher which she had loved and we scattered them into the sea.
Every New Year's Day we meet up and remember and celebrate Alisha, there will always at least 10 or 15 of us who she still means the world to. I had been meaning to erect some sort of memento to Alisha so this year we planted a witch hazel tree for her. It is a beautiful tree that flowers in the winter so I thought it was appropriate for it to flower on her anniversary. It is also a powerful, healing tree which is similar to the traits Alisha had.
I have wanted to do some fundraising for Meningitis Research Foundation since Alisha died but it took a long time to be able to. Then last year when Cathy, one of my best friends, who although had never met Alisha, had heard so much about her, suggested to me that we go to Nepal to do a trek to base camp of Mount Everest, we decided to raise money whilst doing it and the right and only cause I wanted to do this for was meningitis research.
We started fundraising and organised a night in a club in Galway in April. Three friends of mine Liam Kelly, Sol and Shane Coyle were the DJs. It was a brilliant night and we raised almost €2000. We also had a table quiz in The Huntsman Inn and then just pestered people for money after that. We raised nearly €4,500 altogether. Unfortunately I didn't end up being able to go as I fell while out hill walking the week before we were due to go and broke my leg. I was devastated, but believe that everything happens for a reason and I will make it there some day! Cathy went with a friend who took my place and we still raised money for a charity which is so close to my heart.
I would love to do more fundraising for the Foundation, as funding research into this terrible disease could help someone else be diagnosed properly and quickly. This could save someone else having to experience what me and my friends - and particularly Alisha's family - had to go through. Every moment of that fundraising is invaluable.