A Fermanagh woman has quite literally found her feet after previously being wheelchair and bed bound to tread the boards of the Ardhowen Theatre later this month

Michelle Cowan, 39, was diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) while still at school. Now the talented local woman will star in the Fermanagh Bright Starz production of 'A Very Blues Brothers Sister Act'.

Michelle has had quite the journey from her first production with the group five years ago. Michelle spoke to the Impartial Reporter about her journey from being seriously ill and bed bound as a teenager to now taking one of the lead roles in a musical


Michelle Cowan Photo: John McVitty

Michelle Cowan Photo: John McVitty


“I was 15 when I got sick, and it took me 18 months until I was bed bound. I was 12 years bed bound and tube fed and then I was ten years wheelchair bound.”

The last time that the group had a production was prior to the Covid-19 lockdown as sadly plans for a show had to be cancelled when the pandemic broke out in March 2020.

“The audience might get a shock because the last time I did the show I was in a wheelchair”, said Michelle and she added: “It’s going to be scary going out on stage to stand but somebody will be there supporting me”

Michelle continued: “I am being supported by my carer. She is my shoulder to lean on, she will be moving my arms, my legs and she’ll be helping me move to whatever part of the stage I need to be on”

Praising the work of the group, Michelle said: “Gemma Maguire Carrothers and Patricia Goan, they are the leaders of Fermanagh Brightstarz and they and all the volunteers are amazing.

She added: “The Bright Starz are all like one big family and we are getting excited now for the show.”


The Fermanagh Brightstarz group preparing for their show. Photo: John McVitty

The Fermanagh Brightstarz group preparing for their show. Photo: John McVitty


Michelle credited some of her progress to the work undertaken at Buddy Bear.

Explaining how their work helped her, she said: “ They basically try and find your neurological pathways, they feel by doing repetitive reparation therapy so that your brain will make new neurological pathways. They gave me a whole routine and therapy that was just tailored to my needs.

“But then they realised at that stage, I wasn't able to stand on my feet. I wasn't even fit to stand with their help so they had to do a lot of work with my legs and arms just to even get them into position to allow me to stand.”

Continuing, Michelle said: “So when they got to that stage, It took five conductors (staff) who are all trained in Hungarian Peto therapy to stand me on my feet.

“Ildiko Veres, the principal of Buddy Bear used to come behind me on a wheely chair and she had to physically lift my legs for every step. They got me to walk the length of the hall.

“My brain was starting to learn these steps, because she was doing them repeatedly. Then, I actually took a step myself with them still holding and that was an unreal experience.”

Becoming emotional Michelle said: “I still get quite emotional thinking about it because my own body took its own step.”

Eventually it was decided a specialised standing frame would be needed for Michelle to progress. She said: "We knew this machine was to strengthen my muscles, to get my blood pressure to settle and the more I worked on my machine the stronger I would become and the more the brain would start the retrain, but unfortunately that machine was going to cost £6,000.”

The Fermanagh community then pulled together in order to fundraise for a standing machine for Michelle, with a fundraiser organised by one of her carers alongside country singer Malcolm Coulter to raise money for the frame which Michelle used daily to strengthen her body alongside other treatments including Kinesiology.

The standing frame that was used by Michelle for two years has now been passed on to another user who lives within County Fermanagh.

Looking to the future, Michelle who is active in many parts of community life noted her life is “all go at the minute".

She said: “I’m doing all this in between doing an International Business Masters and I’m doing it through voice recognition software.”

Michelle wished to thank her family, friends, carers, and everyone across the Fermanagh community who have supported her in her journey.

Tickets are still available for the BrightStarz production of 'A Very Blues Brothers Sister Act' which will be performed at The Ardhowen Theatre on June 24 and 25.