Military medics home to heroes' welcome
AN Irish doctor who headed up a Defence Forces medical team in Ebola-hit Sierra Leone has made an emotional homecoming following the death of his father while on the mission.
Capt Eugene O'Connor, from Blackrock, Co Dublin, arrived at Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel into the arms of his mother, Mary.
Also there to greet him were his nephew and niece Ben (10) and Milla (8), who held up a homemade sign reading 'Uncle Eugene', and his sisters Tracy and Gillian.
Capt O'Connor's father, also named Eugene, died in February, a month-and-a-half after his arrival in West Africa.
"It was difficult," said Capt O'Connor, explaining how his father had been a GP in North Dublin and was the inspiration behind his own medical career, having also travelled to Africa to work for medical charities.
Capt O'Connor was part of a five-man medical team from the Defence Forces who have been working in co-operation with a joint UK Inter Agency Task Force medical team in Sierra Leone to help stop the spread of Ebola.
Also home was Sgt David Sliney, Corporals Frank Noonan and Pierce Foley and Trooper Richard Fitzgerald, who received a bravery award while away.
It is the first time the Defence Forces have deployed a medical team to combat Ebola.
The group were embedded with Canadian and British forces during their mission and have now been replaced by another team from the Defence Forces.
The situation on the ground was difficult at times, they said.
"There's a degree of poverty there and a degree of fear as well with the virus - that was on our minds all the time, trying to reassure the local populus," Capt O'Connor said.