'A light in the life of everyone who knew her': HPV vaccine campaigner Laura Brennan dies

By Marita Moloney

One of the country's leading HPV vaccine campaigners Laura Brennan has died at the age of 26.

Laura was diagnosed with cervical cancer at the age of 24 and was a leading advocate for patients in the 18 months since.

A native of Ennis, Co Clare, she died at University Hospital Limerick today.

She encouraged parents to have their children vaccinated against cervical cancer, with the uptake improving since she advocated for the vaccine.

Laura was given an honorary degree in UCD in December, with the university's Professor of Gynaecological Oncology Donal Brennan saying at the time that, as a result of her work, rates of vaccination had risen above 70%.

Since she contacted the HSE in 2017, uptake of the vaccine has increased by almost 20 percentage points, and this month, over 22,000 girls were vaccinated.

Laura's family said she was "a light in the life of everyone who knew her" and "a wonderful daughter, sister and friend".

"We are lost without her", they said in a statement.

‘We are all incredibly proud of the work she did in the last 18 months to help protect other young women like herself from the cancer that has taken her life today," they said.

Laura used her voice, her generosity and her energy to help parents to make informed choices and protect their daughters from cervical cancer.

"She wanted to make a difference, and use the time that she had to right what she felt was a great wrong."

The family asked for their privacy to be respected as they grieve for Laura.

The Minister for Health Simon Harris paid tribute to Laura, saying she was "an incredible young woman and a powerful campaigner".

"Despite her illness, she continued her advocacy and thanks in no small part to her sheer determination, the uptake of the HPV vaccine has increased among young women. The State owes her a debt of gratitude," he said.

As a person, she was kind, funny and full of life. Her enthusiasm was infectious.

"Every time I met Laura or spoke with her, I was inspired by her. Amazing doesn’t do justice to her or her courage. I want to extend my deepest condolences to her family and friends.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Laura "was incredibly generous with her time, even when she knew it was limited".

“Cervical cancer took Laura’s life but her powerful advocacy will save many lives. Her bravery was matched by her determination to prevent others from getting this terrible disease," he said.

Anne O’Connor, Interim HSE Director General, also expressed her condolences, saying Laura "defined courage and generosity".

"‘Laura came forward when she was first diagnosed with terminal cancer and our mission became hers. We know that Laura has made a difference, and will have saved lives through her great effort and her tremendous generosity of spirit," she said.

Chief Executive of the Irish Cancer Society, Averil Power, said Laura's "selfless honesty" was an inspiration.

“Laura’s legacy is already clear. In many homes across the country, parents will have her to thank for saving their daughters’ lives," she said.

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