SIX-YEAR-OLD Callum McCarthy cuts a dashing figure as Captain America.
The brave young boy is a ‘Mercy Hero’, helping to focus attention on the Mercy University Hospital’s fund-raising efforts, to ensure that other children can avail of the service that helped him.
His mum, Alison, is a hero too, helping fund-raise in excess of €20,000 for the Mercy Hospital. She and her husband, Donagh, also helped raise funds for the Children’s Leukaemia Association.
“When Calum was diagnosed with ALL (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia), the Association contacted us and they were a great source of support to us,” says Alice.
Callum had support from lots of caring people.
“When Callum was sick, he availed of the POONS, the Paediatric Oncology Outreach Nursing Service at the Mercy Hospital, which allows children with cancer or leukaemia to receive treatment in their own home,” says Alice.
“Olga and Peg became part of the family. Callum built up a great relationship with them and he has great rapport with the doctors at the Mercy Hospital. He laughs and chats with them, giving them ‘high fives’! We all celebrate when Callum is well.”
Callum has an older sister, Shauna, aged 13, and an older brother, Donagh, aged nine. Eanna is aged four.
Alice, along with her community, helped raise more than €20,000 for the essential services that step in when families most need help.
“Lots of community groups got involved in our fundraising efforts,” says Alice.
“Tracton GAA club and Tracton Athletic Club, the local branch of the IFA, and Robert’s Cove Vintage held family events,” says Alice.
“We mums held cake sales, coffee mornings, and Callum’s school had a pyjama day, which was lots of fun!
“Last year, the Tracton GAA Tour-de-South- coast donated part of the proceeds to the Children’s Leukaemia Association Cork.”
Granny stepped in too, helping out the local heroes to raise funds for a worthy cause. Callum’s two grannies dote on him, as does his grandad.
“Callum’s grandmother made crafts at home and she sold them at the local market,” says Alice. “The Christmas market was a great success.”
Alice will enjoy a fun-filled Mother’s Day this Sunday, March 22, when she’ll be served breakfast in bed — delivered by Captain America.
“I think I’ll be spoilt,” says Alice.
Every mother knows the stress and the sorrow of having a sick child for a day, a week, a month, and sadly, sometimes, even longer.
“Callum is the life and soul of the house now,” says Alice.
“It has been a long road. And an unpredictable road which was stressful.
“He has reached the two year mark of treatment since his diagnosis of ALL and he is responding well. He has another year and a half of treatment to go. He is doing very well,” says Alice.
“Peg and Olga are still coming to the house once a fortnight to take bloods or to give Callum medication. It saves us another trip to the hospital.”
“He is leading a happy, active life,” says Alice.
“He’s a sporty lad. He’s playing hurling with Tracton GAA, which he always wanted to do like his brother and sister. He’s playing rugby with the under 7’s and he likes swimming.”
Callum was diagnosed with ALL two years ago when his mother noticed that Callum was bruising easily.
Concerned with the bruising, Alice brought him to her GP, Dr Sonu, who in turn referred Callum to the paediatric day assessment unit at CUH,” says Alice.
“We were very grateful for our quick-thinking family doctor. It was thought at first that Callum may have had a viral infection and that it was something in his blood. Callum was always very healthy with no complaints. The consultant did some blood tests at 2pm and we got the results at 6.30pm.”
Alison and Donagh got a shock.
“We learned that Callum’s condition had to be treated straight away,” says Alison.
Callum was transferred to Crumlin Hospital, to Dublin, by ambulance, to begin his treatment.
His treatment plan meant an initial six months of aggressive treatment, undergoing chemotherapy.
“It was a tough six months,” says Alison.
“There was a huge shock factor being in the paediatric oncology environment in Crumlin. Fortunately for us, Callum’s leukaemia was treatable.”
The little tot, a junior infants pupil at Rennies NS, Nohoval, Belgooly, kept up a brave face during his treatment.
“Callum had to have a NG feeding tube for a while which was par for the course,” Alison adds.
“After 30 days, Callum was in remission and continued his first phase of treatment.
“Then he went on maintenance, and a less intensive regimen. We were so happy,” says Alison.
“It was a really horrific time.”
Callum lost his head of blonde curls. Two years make a big difference.
“Calum is happy now, his curls are back,” says Alison.
It was a dark time for the McCarthys.
“It was all so sudden,” says Alison, recalling Callum’s shock diagnosis.
“The treatment was full on. Callum had to have a Hickman line inserted. He was on oral chemotherapy as well as frequent steroids which had nasty side effects.
“And he had regular lumber punctures. He often suffered from bone pain, nausea, and he always felt cold.”
It was a stressful time for all the family.
“Initially, we stayed in Crumlin with Callum for 14 days,” says Alison.
“In the early days, the first few months, he stopped walking and he had to be carried. He was extremely weak and he had to have physiotherapy.
“In Cork, we attended the Mercy Hospital for regular chemotherapy. Our consultant, Clodagh Ryan, was a great support to us assuring us that Callum’s prognosis was good,” says Alison.
“The oncology nurses, Olga and Peg, came out to our house to take Callum’s bloods, saving us visits to the Leukaemia Unit. Even though we were treated like VIPs at the Mercy Hospital in St John’s ward, we still preferred being at home to a hospital environment.”
Treatment for ALL is 3.5 years for boys and 2.5 years for girls.
The Children’s Leukaemia Association, Cork, supported the McCarthys at a time when they needed it most, while the POON nurses took care of the little boy at home.
His mother watched over her boy, willing him back to good health.
“We are over the worst,” says Alice.
“There are still medical needs that are part of our lives and we are vigilant always keeping a watchful eye on Callum.
“I’m sure he’ll have questions for us when he is older.”
Callum is looking forward to treating his mum to a special Mother’s Day.
“He was in hospital in Cork and Crumlin at different times over the last two years. Now things are looking up.”
This year, things will be different.