Docs Told Dale’s Parents He Only Had A Few Months To Live…21 Years Ago!

Dale Armstrong | Pic: Debbie Deboo

Dale Armstrong abides by one simple mantra: ‘I have cystic fibrosis, but cystic fibrosis doesn’t have me’.

It’s a reaffirming philosophy that has served him well during his young and successful life.

Dale was only given a few months to live by doctors when he was born 21 years ago.

When he was introduced to the world his chest was collapsed and he was struggling to breathe.  He spent the first week weeks of his life in an incubator, attached to wires, drips and oxygen.

Dale Armstrong | Pic: Debbie Deboo

Dale Armstrong | Pic: Debbie Deboo

Parents Jacqueline and George were plunged into a living nightmare as their son was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a genetic condition that affects over 10,000 people in the UK.

The gene affected by CF controls the movement of salt and water in and out of cells. People with cystic fibrosis experience a build-up of thick sticky mucus in the lungs, digestive system and other organs, causing a wide range of challenging symptoms affecting the entire body.

Dale’s daily routine now involves 6-7 hours of treatment and having to swallow up to 30 tablets, including 3-8 pancreatic enzyme capsules every time he eats.

Then there is the fear, the times when Dale finds it hard to cope with life, and the uncertainty over his own mortality.

“Having been born with CF, I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of things,” Dale admits.

“I understand that if I want to stay healthy then I have to do my treatments. But there are still times when I struggle to cope with things.

“Sometimes it takes a toll on me, mentally. When you wake up one day feeling great and then halfway through the day you suddenly find it hard to breathe because your chest is so tight or you can’t stand up straight because it feels like someone is punching you in the stomach, it’s scary.

“Watching people who you were in hospital with as a child die due to the same illness you have is also scary. This year I lost a good friend who I spent almost my whole childhood with in hospital. She was only 25″

“But saying all this, I’m lucky in the fact that I have an amazing family and a small circle of friends and colleagues who have always stuck by me and have always been there for me to support me when I am struggling. They’ve always been there for me when I need someone to talk to.”

The stark reality of Dale’s life is outlined by a regimental routine involving daily treatment and medication.

“It is a tough condition to live with. I spend around 6-7 hours a day doing my treatments on top of everything else,” he explains.

“I work part-time at a local Tesco and my shift starts at 7am. Even though I only live down the street I get up at 5am to fit in my morning treatments such as physiotherapy and nebulisers. Then when I come home from work I do it all over again for my evening treatments.

“It can be really draining sometimes, but it has to be done. I also have to take up to 30 tablets a day including 3-8 pancreatic enzyme tablets every single time I eat”

“I’m on strong antibiotics for life to try and suppress a nasty bug known as Pseudomonas that grows in my lungs which leaves the lungs scarred and damaged. Even the slightest cold can turn into a severe chest infection for me.

“When this happens I need to be admitted to hospital for intense IV antibiotic treatment and intense physiotherapy. I have already been admitted to hospital seven times this year due to bowel problems also caused by cystic fibrosis. Usually my hospital admissions are between 1-3 weeks.”

Dale has learned to cope with cystic fibrosis, and the 21-year-old’s zest for life is as uplifting as it is infectious.

He refuses to let the condition derail his dreams and ambitions. He works part-time as a cash administrator at a Tesco near to his home in Cregagh in east Belfast, and has also forged a successful musical career.

He admits he becomes “a different person” when he steps onto the stage to sing, and his performances behind the mic have earned rave reviews.

“I’ve always had a deep connection with music,” Dale admits.

“I remember when I was about four or five my mum and dad bought me a portable CD player to keep me occupied when I was in hospital. My dad was a heavy metal and rock fan while my mum was an 80s and 90s pop fan, and my Nan was Country fan, so I was brought up around a variety of styles and eras.

“I think this helped shape my eclectic music taste that I have now and that incorporate into my own set-lists when I do shows.

“The earliest CD I remember owning was a Tom Jones greatest hits album and I would pretend that I was Tom Jones and sing and dance along to it. My mum says that I have always been singing for as long as she can remember, whether it was good or not she refused to say!

“As I got older I was in school choirs and a few different drama groups. I would always enter my school’s talent shows.”

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Dale Armstrong | Pic: Debbie Deboo

Dale’s love of singing has seen him perform at a number of shows and festivals, and his musical talent is now in demand from fellow artists throughout Northern Ireland.
His introduction to the entertainment business came last Halloween after he made contact with top Dolly Parton tribute artist Donna Fleming.

“I was at a point in my life where I decided that performing was something that I wanted to take more seriously rather than as a hobby,” Dale says.

“I contacted Donna who I had seen at a country music festival a few months before to seek advice from her on how she got started in the business. I sent her a link to some of my YouTube videos and she came back to me a few days later and said that she was putting on a Halloween show in the Stormont Hotel and asked if I wanted to come and be the support act.

“I was then contacted by Chronically Fabulous founder Debbie Deboo who asked me if I would like to perform at a fundraising event for them. So it all started to take off.

“Earlier this year I got back in touch with Donna again when she was looking for new members of her Dolly NI band and I became a backing singer. We performed on the main stage at the Dalriada Festival as the headline act. I also had a solo section in the show and the place blew up when I had finished, I was absolutely stunned at the response I got from the audience I even had to do an encore which I hadn’t prepared for, but managed to pull it off.

“I was also asked personally to perform at this year’s Sunflower Festival by its owners as they had seen me at the Chronically Fabulous fundraiser and were so impressed with me they wanted me at the festival. I also got the opportunity at a party recently to perform with the amazing The Twisted Sisters.”

Dale’s meteoric rise in the entertainment world is testimony to his uplifting outlook on life.

“I always told myself that the one thing I would never do in life is let my illness get the better of me,” he says.

“I wasn’t going to lay down and feel sorry for myself for the rest of my life. I wanted people to see that even though I had an illness I wasn’t going to let it define who I am as a person.

“When I’m on stage I become a completely different person. It’s almost like I’m playing a character. People always say they’re shocked because I’m so quiet and shy in person, but when I get on stage I become a confident, bombastic person. I love giving the crowd a good time and being able to give them those few hours that they’re able to just dance and sing the night away and forget all their worries and get lost in the music.”

Dale admits his dream gig would be to perform at the Grand Opera House.

“It would be amazing to play The Grand Opera House. It’s a venue that I’ve always loved simply for its beautiful interior and architecture,” he added.

“It would be amazing to stand on the stage and look out and see that venue filled with people.

“I’d also love to be able to record an album some day, it’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. I also just hope that I can keep having fun and doing what I get to do because I love every minute of it.”

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