Despite a long battle with cystic fibrosis that took his life at 42 years of age, Stephen Shea said his first cousin (Patrick Thomas) P.J. Shea never used his sickness as a crutch.
While P.J. grew up in Stephenville Crossing, at the time of his death on Feb. 12 he was living with his family in Mount Pearl, including wife Lisa and his twin eight-year-old boys William and Patrick.
Stephen has fond memories of him from snowmobiling and moose hunting trips and said he was very successful with the latter, bagging the biggest animal they ever got.
He got to know his cousin even better when he and his brother Michael Shea, who is the same age as P.J., roomed together while at university in St. John’s.
Then in recent years, whenever he had occasion to go to the east coast, there were visits with P.J.’s family.
Stephen said it was a bit overwhelming last week with the loss of his cousin from a tightly knit family.
Rene Cashin, who is married to Mr. Shea’s sister Edwina, said he came into P.J.’s life when he was just four years old and has done every imaginable thing with him in the ensuing 38 years from him being a little child to becoming an adult who accomplished so much.
He said that’s despite spending a lot of accumulative time in the hospital because of his cystic fibrosis.
Cashin said P.J’s life expectancy was 16 years of age, but he went well beyond that and two double lung transplants – the first when he was 29 and the second eight years later – gave him 13 extra years of life.
He said because he knew his years were limited he tried to do everything that everyone else did growing up, playing volleyball, basketball and cross-country running. He loved golf while he could physically do it.
P.J. instilled his passion for being active in his sons, with both in swimming, karate and music.
Cashin said Mr. Shea was a ground breaker in terms of cystic fibrosis, as doctors had known little about adult patients when he was transitioning into adulthood.
“I think because of P.J. leading the way, children will transition well into adult CF patients because of the experiences doctors had with him,” he said.
Cashin said Mr. Shea had a different relationship with each relative or friend.
He said what few people knew is that many hockey jerseys given to P.J. while he was in the hospital were mostly always passed on to a child down the hall.
Because he went through two transplants, he mentored many others going though the process while in the hospital.
“P.J. was a special person who went out of his way to help people feel comfortable when he himself wasn’t,” Cashin said.
He said his quick-witted humor was unbelievable, including when a friend visited him in hospital recently and told him he was back playing hockey and scored two goals in the last game.
P.J. was quick to ask him if there was anyone else on the ice.
P.J. Shea’s education:
Graduated Assumption High in Stephenville Crossing in 1995.
Upon graduation won the Atlantic Accord Scholarship for high mark in mathematics in Provincial Public Exam.
Graduated from Memorial University of Newfoundland in 1999 with a Bachelor of Science.
Graduated from Memorial University of Newfoundland in 2001 with a Master of Environmental Science.