A young Letterkenny man who lit up the lives of everyone who met him is to be remembered with a special night in his honour.
A smile, thumbs-up and a mantra that “everyday is a good day” were the words and actions that guided the unique life of Calum Nugent.
Despite living with serious illness and health issues for most of his 25 years, Calum packed in what seemed like several lifetimes worth of wonderful experiences that inspired everyone he encountered before he sadly passed away in May, 2018.
From sports stars to well known figures within the movie and music industry, Calum inspired them all.
And as the first anniversary of his passing approaches many of those famous names are gearing up to play a role in a special charity event being held in Letterkenny’s Clanree Hotel on May 3. All money raised will be used to support Donegal Hospice and The Friends of Letterkenny University Hospital.
Born in London, Calum was the first son of Pauline and Eddie Nugent. They returned to Ireland when Calum was two and resided in Carnamuggagh, Letterkenny.
Pauline and Eddie recall a fun loving, adorable boy who always had a permanent smile on his face and a unique sense of optimism and positivity.
While he grew up a healthy young boy, as his development continued his mum Pauline, a nurse, says she began to notice that his movement appeared slightly different to his peers. His gait was slightly different and at times he would require balance assistance when negotiating steps or stairs.
At aged six things escalated quickly when he began to develop headaches and sickness and it became clear that something was not right. A diagnosis revealed he had a significant brain tumour at the back of his head near his brainstem that would require immediate surgery.
Pauline explained, “They put him on life support and it looked like there was nothing they could do for him, but, Eddie insisted that he be brought to Dublin immediately. We left in a blue light ambulance.”
Eddie says, “Once he got to Beaumont Hospital I knew he had a chance. There was something we could hold on to.”
While doctors battled for up to eight hours in surgery to relieve the huge pressure that had built up inside Calum’s head they encountered complications in the form of a bleed that forced them to halt proceedings with the surgery and he gradually slipped into a coma.
Weeks passed and it appeared that while he had not deteriorated further, neither had he gained ground and concerns grew.
“He was just lying there and he could not do anything,” says Pauline.
“It was week three going on four and the doctor said that apart from the fact he still had a heart beat they would turn the machine off. Eddie said ‘I don’t believe it. I known in his eyes that he can hear us’. We went in and said to Calum ‘Show us a sign. We know you can hear us – prove it’. That was when he made the smallest movement and started to squeeze Eddie’s thumb”.
“From there he just built up. The doctors did tests and said they were now getting a reaction from him,” says Eddie.
These micro-movements signalled a new hope and they grew from this tiny effort into bigger movements and the slow but steady process of recovery that eventually saw Calum regain much of his movement, speech and ability to walk, was underway.
Once he began to recover he returned to family life and by now had siblings Rhys, Jordan and Grace to share life with. Over the years of growing up alongside their brother they used to refer to him simply as a ‘Legend’ for the inspiration and positivity he spread to them and everyone else he would meet.
Pauline says that is what Calum’s life was all about – smiling, inspiring others and enjoying the small things in life like sitting in the garden taking in the sights and sounds of nature or hanging out with his friends for coffee. He left everyone feeling better for time in his company and he motivated and inspired many people by his selfless attitude that never saw him complain or see the negative in anyone or anything.
A trait that his family say was rooted in his deep faith and love of life.
“He was very wise and he would always say thing to us like, ‘Sure it could be worse’ or he would say things ‘Look at nature. Look at the birds. Everyday is a good day’,” reveals Pauline.
A budding DJ with a huge passion for music, Calum got to meet some of his music idols including U2 stars Bono and The Edge. The U2 guitarist spent time with Calum and his parents right before he was due to walk out on stage to play for a sell-out crowd in Croke Park.
On another occasion, at a party hosted by music promoter Denis Desmond, U2’s frontman Bono, having heard Calum was a fan, casually walked over and put his arm around him and said “I’m an aging rock star looking for some love and attention from my number one fan”.
He then sat down and enjoyed spending time with the Letterkenny lad and signing a poster for him with the message ‘God is great and so are you’.
“We couldn’t believe it. It was his hero. Calum seemed to make wishes come true for everyone. Maybe in some way he may have done it for us. But he had a huge interest in all music from classical right through to heavy metal. He just had a great understanding of music,” Eddie says.
As the months passed Calum also got to meet and befriend Today FM Stars Ian Dempsey and Mario Rosenstock, rugby stars including Johnny Sexton, Rob Kearney and Sean O’Brien, movie actor Jonathan Rhys Meyers and many more. All of whom took a genuine interest in Calum, his positivity and his well-being, Eddie says.
“He just drew people to him wherever he went and made time for everyone,” he added.
As time moved on, gradually the illness impacted more and more and while his family knew that his health was in decline, his spirit was as unbreakable as ever.
Nothing would prove this more than in the last weeks of his life while receiving care in the Donegal Hospice.
Eddie says that he and his son were big rugby fans and each year they enjoyed going on their ‘men only’ rugby trips to the European Championship Cup finals, but by this stage it looked like they may have gone to their last game together. While they had plans to attend the 2018 finals in North Spain between Leinster and French club Racing 92, while in the hospice Calum slipped into a coma but miraculously, he re-emerged from this unscathed and confidently proclaimed to his family that they would make it to Bilbao and they would see their heroes take to the field once again.
While it seemed impossible initially that they could make the trip to Spain, with the right help and support from their friends they self-discharged from the hospice and managed to bring all the required medication and equipment needed for Calum and off they jetted to the Basque city.
During the journey Calum maintained his trademark smile, upbeat humour and positive vibes throughout. His inspirational journey was matched by the heroics on the field of play as they got to watch Leinster claim a historic victory in the final, creating special memories of one of the best trips they had ever undertaken.
On their return he re-entered the hospice and a short time later, once again, he slipped into a coma. But in the true fighting spirit he showed throughout his life he amazed everyone once again to re-emerge one last time. During his life his siblings coined a new nickname for their hero brother – Lazarus – for the way Calum had come back from the brink so many times in his life and once again his spirit was not diminished.
Pauline feels that this was his special way of preparing for his final journey and saying a final farewell to the family he loved so dearly before he peacefully passed away on May 19, 2018. He was 25 years old.
Remembering Calum his mum says, “He left his mark on so many people and he was the happiest person I have ever known. Calum had an infectious smile, gave unconditional love and never judged. He had a great sense of humour and was known as a legend by his siblings. Against all odds he never gave up.”
A special charity night has been planned by Calum’s family that will feature two of his well-known friends, radio and television stars Ian Dempsey and Gift Grub’s Mario Rosenstock who are coming to host a special charity night in the Clanree Hotel on Friday May 3.
It promises to be a special night with lots of memories, laughs, prizes and a few surprises with all the proceeds going to Donegal Hospice and Friends of Letterkenny University Hospital for new medical equipment.
Speaking on his popular breakfast show on Today FM recently Ian Dempsey announced, “A friend of ours, Calum Nugent is his name, unfortunately he passed away at a very young age of 25 last year and myself and Mario became good friends with him and he used to come to all the stage shows and also used to come and visit us here in Marconi House. Well we were asked to put on a show so we are doing a very special show with myself and Mario, in memory of Calum, in the Clanree Hotel in Letterkenny on Friday May 3, starting at 8pm. It is only €20 to get in and we are all doing this for nothing with the money going to the Donegal Hospice and the Friends of Letterkenny University Hospital because they gave him such great care when he was, unfortunately, near the end of his life.”
Tickets can be picked up directly from The Clanree Hotel, The Donegal Hospice or through the Friends of Letterkenny University Hospital.