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Brave Brendan O'Farrell stars in musical just days after being hospitalised with mystery illness

By Ivan Little

Published 22/08/2015

Brendan O’Farrell
Brendan O’Farrell
Brendan O’Farrell with co-director Daisy Eccles

A courageous Co Down teenager got a standing ovation after he went ahead with his lead role in a self-financed musical after five days in hospital with a crippling stomach illness that has baffled doctors.

Brendan O'Farrell (17), from Rostrevor, who collapsed at his home with severe pains and internal bleeding, was discharged by medics just in time to join colleagues on stage for the opening night of The Last Five Years by American Jason Robert Brown.

In Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry, Brendan had received a series of blood transfusions and underwent a number of scans to determine exactly what caused his illness.

But although doctors are still carrying out tests on Brendan, they decided that he'd recovered sufficiently to allow him to go on with the show in front of a sell-out audience at the Abbey Christian Brothers' Grammar School.

"It was touch and go if I would be able to do the production," said Brendan, who's hoping to make a career as a singer and actor.

"But I didn't want to let everyone down, especially as it was costing us a small fortune of our own to get the rights to the musical, hire the hall and pay the hundred and one other bills."

Even though he was wired up to a terrifying array of drips and machines for days, Brendan was apparently more worried about the musical than about his own condition, polishing up his lines and his songs to the amazement of doctors and nurses. He even did a live interview by telephone from his hospital bed with Radio Ulster's John Toal.

"I was trying to keep a brave face on it," said Brendan.

"But I was secretly dreading that we would have to pull the plug on the entire production."

Brendan's fears were shared by his friends in the Lost Ticket Productions company, whose ages range from 15-18.

Rehearsals went ahead with Brendan's co-director Daisy Eccles trying to keep the rest of the cast and the musicians upbeat. Brendan's mother Sinead said: "Obviously our first concern was for Brendan.

"It was awful to see him in such distress. I heard him collapse in the early hours of the morning and he was rushed to hospital by ambulance. At the hospital we were told that he needed a lot of blood transfusions very quickly and we were all very worried.

"On the day before opening night the doctors gave Brendan the green light to do the show, and we wouldn't have allowed him to appear without their consent." Brendan said he was nervous but not unduly concerned about living up to the old theatre adage that the show must go on, even after missing so many rehearsals.

Brendan sent a huge thank-you message to his colleagues, particularly his leading lady Caoimhe Fegan, who had kept going with rehearsals even in his enforced absence.

He said: "They were all very supportive. And their performances were fantastic."

In his programme notes, Brendan thanked the hospital staff in Newry "for saving me".

Once the three-night run of The Last Five Years is over, Brendan will have to return to hospital for more investigations and tests.

He said: "The medical team are talking about some sort of surgery if and when they establish what the problem is."

Brendan is hoping the tests will show medics what's wrong with the talented trouper, who will play the part of American rock legend Buddy Holly in his school musical in the autumn.

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