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Until he receives a double lung transplant, Connell Rodden won’t be able to travel much farther than the distance from his home in Ocean City’s south end to his doctors at Temple Hospital in Philadelphia. The two-hour time limit was set by his physicians, who five years ago diagnosed Rodden with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease for which transplantation is his only hope.
That’s quite a short leash for a man who has traveled to such diverse locations as Paris, Grand Cayman and Alaska, and, as of September, to Ireland with his wife of 32 years, Carol, and their three adult children and their children’s spouses.
“That was the motivation for the trip,” Carol said of the weeklong journey to the land of Connell’s ancestors. “He was given three to five years to live and wanted to take his kids on a trip to Ireland before he became too disabled to enjoy the trip.”
Connell was put on oxygen when the family returned from Ireland, and was more recently put on the lung transplant list.
“My Dad’s pulmonary function will continue to decrease until his lungs become completely insufficient at sustaining life,” said Megan, the youngest of Connell and Carol’s three children, in explaining the disease with which her father was diagnosed. “Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is a lung disease that is chronic, progressive and terminal. There is no cure and no sufficient treatment. His only recourse is a double lung transplant.”
With that sobering thought in mind, Connell and Carol made plans to take what Megan refers to as their “final family trip.”
“I say it was a final family trip because we may never have the opportunity to travel again all together,” she said. “It has always been a dream of my father’s to visit Ireland, the country where his grandparents were born and where he still has various aunts and cousins.”
The Rodden family – which includes daughter Deirdre of Langhorne, Pa., son CJ and daughter-in-law Angela from New Mexico, and Megan’s husband Phil Nagengast of Egg Harbor Township -- not only were able to make Connell’s dream come true, they were able to visit Donegal and travel back to the turn of the century to the time Connell’s family departed the old country.
“A highlight of the trip was a visit to a small pub in a tiny town high in the country hills of County Donegal,” Megan said. “While planning our itinerary, this was the one stop that my Dad insisted we must make. The pub was once owned by our ancestors and, inside on a window sill, we discovered a framed, faded black-and-white photograph of a family with the hand-written description ‘The Rodden family left Olde Glenn Bar in 1908 for America.’ ”
Megan said the current owner, no relation to the Rodden family, tried to persuade the visitors to buy back the bar, which is for sale, and to take up occupancy in the adjoining cottage.
“We had a huge laugh when my husband explained that he wouldn’t enjoy living in the tiny secluded town where sheep outnumbered people 5-to-1 because there wasn’t a gym or tanning salon within 50 miles,” Megan said of her spouse.
They also visited Rodden’s Bar in Buncrana, a beach town in northern Ireland, where “pictures of old Roddens on the wall looked surprisingly like our Roddens,” Megan said, and enjoyed a tour of Jamison's Whiskey Distillery, where Connell was chosen to taste “the good stuff.”
They also toured the Guinness Storehouse on Arthur’s Day, which is the birthday of the inventor of Guinness beer and somewhat of a holiday in Ireland.
Making the most of their time
“We fit a lot of sightseeing and activities into our vacation,” said Megan, who planned the day-by-day itinerary, which included hiking in Connemara National Park, attending a medieval banquet in Dunguaire Castle, and visits to Kylemore Abby, Slieves League Cliffs and Dunluce Castle. They walked the Giants Causeway, visited the Titanic Museum, enjoyed farm-to-table dining in Belfast, and touched 800-year-old mummies under St. Michan Church.
“It was really neat,” said Megan, who described the mummies as having “leathery skin.”
Despite their hectic schedule, the Roddens say their most memorable and meaningful moments were the simplest ones. “All of us sitting around a table and talking over a meal, sipping a pint and sharing a laugh in a pub, and bickering over driving directions,” Megan said.
While the Roddens view the trip to Ireland as a final family trip, they hope their own traveling days are not over.
“We are hoping that a double lung transplant for Connell will make all the difference in the world and perhaps someday we will travel again,” Carol said.