Joy and heartache for Cork parents of twins

Jonathan and Marie O’Halloran longed for a child and were doubly delighted when she fell pregnant with twins. But it was to be the start of an emotional rollercoaster, they tell CHRIS DUNNE, as they reveal their support for Temple Street Children’s Hospital
Joy and heartache for Cork parents of twins

CLOSE-KNIT: Jonathan and Marie O’Halloran, with their son Lorcan, who will be six years old next month. The family are raising awareness of the Temple Street Children’s Hospital charity.

BEING born a twin is like being born with your best friend.

Five-year-old Lorcan O’Halloran, from Charleville, may have lost his best friend and his twin brother, Cathal, when he was 30 days old, but he is still very much part of his life.

“When his mother, Marie, reads bedtime stories to Lorcan, she tells him that his brother is surfing the fluffy white clouds on the digger with his Grandad Joe,” says Lorcan’s dad, Jonathan O’Halloran.

Lorcan underwent his own battle for survival, at Temple Street Children’s Hospital soon after he was born, and his parents are now proud supporters of the fund-raising scheme for the hospital in partnership with Tesco Ireland, which has so far raised a whopping €5million.

Jonathan, a natural activist, is also the driving force behind many a soccer charity match. He has the job of designing the jerseys — all with O on them, denoting the fact the lost child had no birthday, but with the angel’s name on the back of the jersey.

The Temple Street charity is a very fitting recipient, say the family.

“I realised the doctors and nurses in Temple Street never give up,” says Marie.

She and Jonathan found that out when they received a call at home on the afternoon of Cathal’s funeral, saying Lorcan had to be rushed to Temple Street Hospital.

Every little helps in times of sickness and in health.

And every time Marie went into the ICU unit to see Lorcan, she noticed a badge on the side of his incubator, advising that it had been purchased by donations.

“Every time I thought; do they realise my little man is alive because of them?” says Marie, who grew up in Mallow, and is a garda and also a prize-winning poet and writer.

Jonathan, who runs his own business, O’Halloran Building Solutions, recollects the long road to the birth of their twins.

“We suffered the misfortune of miscarriages over five years. So when we heard we were expecting in May, 2014, it was a time of great joy.”

And the joy was soon two-fold.

“When the obstetrician told us there were two babies, Marie nearly fell off the table! I burst out laughing!” recalls Jonathan.

The twin boys, born in CUH at 25 weeks and three days, were identical.

“At the 23-week scan we were told that there was a difference in growth between the boys, but nothing major,” says Jonathan.

“A couple of days later, another scan told us something was not quite right. The obstetrician decided Marie had to be admitted to hospital now the growth difference was more obvious.”

It was a stressful time for the couple, who were so looking forward to becoming first-time parents.

“We kept hoping and praying,” Jonathan says.

“We just took things day by day as Marie, now confined to bed, went through numerous scans and blood pressure checks every day. She contracted shingles which was horrible. I had to be gowned up and masked to go in and see her.

“These days, with people wearing masks because of Coronavirus, it brings that stressful time back to her.”

It was incredibly stressful when Maria and Jonathan realised that one of their precious babies might not survive. The children were tiny and vulnerable.

“Cathal’s blood flow was reversed. It didn’t look good.”

CRITICAL TIME: Lorcan O’Halloran when he was sick in Temple Street Children’s Hospital. His parents are now raising awareness of a fund-raising drive for the hospital.
CRITICAL TIME: Lorcan O’Halloran when he was sick in Temple Street Children’s Hospital. His parents are now raising awareness of a fund-raising drive for the hospital.

The boys were both in a critical condition at birth and were put on ventilators.

“There were 30 people in the room when they were born,” says Jonathan. “I never expected to hear both babies cry. But they did. They fought hell for leather.”

Jonathan held his sons in the palm of his hands.

“Lorcan was 700 grams, Cathal was 500 grams. When I joined my two hands together, they fitted from index finger to index finger. They were so tiny.”

They were given the names of mighty kings.

“Cathal was the King of Munster, he needed more strength!” says Jonathan. 

“Lorcan was the King of Leinster.”

Both were mighty brave warriors. Like their name-sakes, Cathal and Lorcan were up for a fight, battling to be with mum and dad.

“Marie didn’t see the twins until the day after they were born,” says Jonathan. “She had a Caesarean birth. I sent her pictures.”

The new mother knew that her sons, both fierce fighters, were up for the battle of their lives; survival.

“She was afraid she’d fall in love with them,” says Jonathan. “They were both so frail in the incubators.”

Everyone was rooting for the little fighters.

“Professor Ryan sat us down to tell us about the positives,” says Jonathan.

“He wrote a list of the boys’ good points. He also spoke about the complications of such premature birth and the need for the twins to steadily gain weight.”

Jonathan and Marie kept vigil beside their sons day and night.

It was a worrying time when Cathal contracted necrotising enterocolitis — an inflammation of the gut where the tissues in the intestine start to die.

“We were more worried about Cathal,” says Jonathan.

“And when a few weeks later Lorcan was not himself, we continued to pray and hope they would both survive. Marie and I felt helpless. There was nothing we could do only watch and wait.”

“The chaplain in the hospital suggested we christen the babies,” says Jonathan.

They were both critical, with a 50/50 chance of survival. By now Cathal was very sick.

“Before joining Marie and the godparents at CUH, I went into the chapel in Brú Columbanus where we were staying. I pleaded with the man upstairs not to take Cathal. We did know from the medical staff and the neonatologist, Peter Filan, that if Cathal came through this he would have severe problems.”

BATTLING FOR LIFE: Cathal O’Halloran when he was about two weeks old. He sadly died a few days later. “He did his best,” says dad Jonathan, “he died in our arms.”
BATTLING FOR LIFE: Cathal O’Halloran when he was about two weeks old. He sadly died a few days later. “He did his best,” says dad Jonathan, “he died in our arms.”

Cathal fought and fought for life until he could fight no more. He passed away on Sunday, June 29, 2014.

“He did his best,” says Jonathan. “Cathal died in our arms.

“The hospital were brilliant to us, giving us privacy in a family room to hold Cathal and say goodbye to him. That was the toughest part. It was hard to part with Cathal. Lorcan was still fighting in his incubator.”

The Feilacain memory box held possessions that Jonathan and Marie couldn’t bear to part with.

“I never knew anything about Feilacain before,” says Jonathan.

He made new contacts with other dads who lost their own little warriors.

“Later this year, we’ll be meeting our UK counterparts in Dalymount Park or in Tolka Park for a charity soccer match,” Jonathan adds.

He and Marie brought Cathal home, showing him where his twin brother Lorcan would grow up.

“We held our own service at home. Cathal was a small man with a big personality,” says Jonathan.

The O’Hallorans have a big circle of friends.

“When Marie got the call from CUH saying Lorcan had to be rushed to Temple Street, five women rushed to make her a cup of tea!” says Jonathan. “He was transferred to Temple Street by ambulance. We followed up in the morning. Lorcan had a perforated bowel; he could be poisoned inside. We were so afraid meeting the doctor. This was like a different planet.”

Mr Gillick said: “Let’s get over this op.”

Lorcan, sharing the DNA of a mighty warrior, got over the operation and came out the other side. “It was a scary couple of weeks,” Jonathan says. “But he kept improving all the time.”

Lorcan has proof he can do battle.

“He has the scar on his belly to prove it!” says Jonathan.

Lorcan was just 23 weeks of age when his parents were told they could take him home from hospital.

There was a lot to deal with, including the bowel operation, the time in ICU, and the eye surgery Lorcan received in Holles Street Hospital.

He was destined for great things.

In 2014, his parents agreed with the hospital that images of Lorcan could be included in a video as part of the pitch Temple Street made to Tesco when inviting them to come on board as a charity partner.

“If it wasn’t for the fund-raising, the charitable collaboration with Tesco, I don’t think Temple Street could do half the great work that they do,” says Marie.

“We got the benefit of life-saving hospital equipment that had been donated. When I realised that, I realised every cent helps.”

Jonathan, who has a budding soccer star practising his skills in the back garden and who is celebrating his sixth birthday in May, is full of praise for both Tesco and for Temple Street hospital.

“The nurses were excellent. They were our rocks when we drawn into a whirlpool of emotion and mourning and hoping. And Tesco is amazing, working so hard for so long to raise so much.”

The O’Hallorans’ selfless act of love, sharing their experience of heartbreak and loss for the benefit of sick children all over Ireland, keeps Cathal’s sweet memory alive.

And how is the mighty warrior, named after a powerful Irish King, doing now?

“He is thriving,” says Jonathan.

Lorcan loves his gadgets and he is very mechanical-minded, always putting things together.

“And he likes helping me out in the garden.”

Like father, like son; Lorcan is sporty.

“He loves playing football with me. He plays hurling at school and trains every Saturday.”

Lorcan is the perfect host.

“And when you call here to us, Lorcan will make you a cup of coffee from the coffee-maker, supervised by his mum.”

Well, I’ll be dreaming of that cup of coffee. It is not every day I get a brew made for me by a brave warrior.

Jonathan and Marie cherish their beautiful boy.

“Every night, Marie and I look at him when he’s asleep and we can’t believe he’s ours.”

Through the generosity and fundraising of Tesco customers, local communities and Tesco staff, €5 million has been raised in the past five years for chosen charity partners, Temple Street University Children’s Hospital.

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