WHEN Daniel Ring is older, his dad, Michael, will tell him all about the doctors who saved his life.
Donnacha Cuill, Brian Frasier, Paul Oslizlok and Lars Nolte worked wonders when the youngster was at Crumlin Hospital a few months ago.
“We were so worried when we first went to Crumlin,” says Michael, of Lehenaghmore, near Togher. “But the staff there are just wonderful. We can’t praise them highly enough.”
Now he is taking part in the Clonakilty half-marathon tomorrow to raise funds for the hospital.
If Daniel, who is two in January, hadn’t undergone heart surgery, his life would have been in great danger. “It is a shock and a half when someone tells you that,” says Michael.
Now the boy can look forward to a happy, healthy future. He can enjoy messing about with engines with his dad, going to crèche, and welcoming his new brother or sister in May.
“Daniel likes nothing better than tinkering with cars with me in the garage and making car sounds,” says Michael. “He is obsessed with car noises and sounds. All you hear is ‘brm, brm, brm’ when he’s playing with his cars.”
That’s not surprising, considering his mum and dad both work for Ford in Cork and his grandad is a retired car mechanic.
Daniel’s parents, Michael and Noreen, were in West Cork with their best friends, Dave and Nicola, when they got the call to go to Crumlin for pre-op tests. Dave, who he met on his first day at Glasheen National School, said he would run the Clonakilty half-marathon in December for Crumlin and roped Michael in too.
“Noreen and Nicola were pregnant together,” says Michael. “I’m godfather to their son, Ted. We’ve been friends all our lives.”
For Michael, the Clonakilty half-marathon tomorrow will not be easy.
“I’m nearly 40 and not very fit,” he admits. But he is not going to let down his best pal Dave and Crumlin Children’s Hospital.
Like his son, Michael is made of stern stuff and plans to raise €5,000. “I’ve raised €3,000 already,” he says, “so the target is looking good.”
Michael and Noreen stayed in a house attached to Crumlin Children’s Hospital when Daniel was sick.
“It was a basic four-bed house, accommodating four families. The house was clean, but it was old and tired,” he said. “The funds will go towards housing families who are going through something similar like we did.”
The couple never envisaged their healthy son, who weighed 9lb 10 oz at birth, would have to undergo life-saving heart surgery.
“A routine check-up to our GP detected a slight heart murmur,” says Michael. “That was worrying in itself, but Dr Cuill decided on a second opinion to be sure to be sure.”
Michael will never forget when paediatric doctor, Dr Brian Frasier, said there was a bigger problem. It was 3.30pm on Friday, May 26, this year. “It was the start of the June bank holiday,” he says. “Noreen and I had got a half-day from work and decided to do something nice in the afternoon after our consultation.”
The day took a different turn.
“Dr Frasier is old-school, a very personable man,” says Michael. “He told us to sit down for a chat. Then I saw him go serious.
“Dr Frasier said Daniel had a heart problem, but there was a bigger problem. He seemed to have a weak pulse in his hips. The blood flow wasn’t strong enough for the blood to reach his legs and kidneys. We needed an ultra-sound.”
Michael and Noreen were not anticipating that. “I remember I broke out in a cold sweat,” says Michael. “I asked for a towel to dry my face.”
The three went home, worrying about the unknown and what the ultra-sound the following Wednesday might show. “We were very worried,” says Michael. “Up until then, we were playing happy families. In those few days we became reclusive.” Neither parent had ever heard of coarctation of the aorta, a condition hard to diagnose. The narrowing of the aorta causes a ‘kink’ in the main artery, not allowing enough blood to flow to the legs and kidneys. Dr Frasier was looking at urgent surgery and rang his colleague, Dr Oslizlok, paediatric cardiologist, in Crumlin, to arrange a consultation for Daniel. That made it very real, very fast.
“Noreen, naturally, was emotional, and Dr Frasier gave her his personal mobile phone number so she could contact him anytime. He told us to mind Daniel and keep him healthy. He wasn’t to go to crèche in case he picked up any infection.”
The heart surgery was scheduled for August. Noreen and Michael met the team beforehand who would save their son’s life.
At Crumlin Children’s Hospital, 30 children have heart operations in the morning and 30 in the afternoon. Michael knew his son was in safe hands. “Dr Oslizlok confirmed the diagnosis and confirmed surgery was required.”
Two days later the couple met Dr Nolke, who would undertake the heart operation. “He told us surgery was the only route to fix Daniel’s problem,” says Michael. “A stent wouldn’t suffice, because Daniel was so young and he could live into his nineties. The materials in the stent wouldn’t last that long. This was a long term solution. It made the whole thing a reality.
“Dr Lars is a gentleman. He answered all our constant repetitive questions.”
Dr Lars, who has years of experience, said the surgery was quite straightforward. Daniel would be in theatre for four hours and the operation would take an hour and a half.
“Dr Lars had to tell us the risks involved,” says Michael. “Daniel could lose his voice. He could have a stroke and be paralysed. I said; ‘We can do this’. Dr Lars said ‘We don’t really have a choice. When Daniel is older, his heart could burst and it will kill him’.”
“Dr Lars drew a diagram on how he would approach the surgery,” says Michael. “The man is a genius. The 6-inch scar would appear like a natural crease on Daniel’s back, under his arm-pit. His lung would be deflated and rubber spaces inserted in his rib cage. Dr Lars had a centimetre of the artery to pull it together and join it up.”
Then it was a waiting game until the day of surgery. One Sunday in August this year, D-day dawned for Daniel. “We gowned up at 7.30am,” says Michael. “We held his hand and held his head steady while Daniel went to sleep. We gave our boy a last kiss goodbye and told him we’d see him in four hours.”
It was a long four hours.
“There was a nurse assigned to us who kept us in the loop, telling us what was happening at every stage,” says Michael. “At 11.30am we got a phone call to say all was OK. When we met he surgeon, I thanked him 500 times in 30 seconds.
“Daniel was in intensive care for a few days. At first, he was white and motionless, which was a bit of a shock. His hands were tied to the bed so he wouldn’t interfere with the wound. That was heart-breaking. At one stage, we saw his hands move as if to communicate with us.”
“On the Thursday after the operation, he was on a tractor in a normal ward! On Friday, the doctors said; home now, lads!”
Daniel went armed with a padded jacket to protect his wound and a scar to be proud of.
“I think the ladies will like that in time to come!” says Michael.
Daniel bounced back in double quick-time.
“The health nurse said he was well enough to be back to crèche in two weeks.”
When the family went back to Dublin for the six week check-up, they went for a spin to the Forty Foot. “The sun was shining,” says Michael. “An elderly man passed us by and said to Daniel ‘Bless your heart, son’. Then he put his hand on Daniel’s shoulder and said ‘You’ll be fine now, son’.”
Nobody knew the man, but Daniel’s grandmother prays to Padre Pio. “And isn’t it funny that a vintage car we have is PIO reg? I just think there was something in that,” says Michael.
Daniel is now looking forward to Santa.
“You appreciate the simple things in life when you’ve been where we were,” Michael says. “We just got very lucky. Daniel came out unscathed. His sleep is a bit disrupted, he takes a blood pressure tablet every day, but that is a small price to pay for a fantastic outcome.”
Daniel is a daddy’s boy,” says Michael. “That’s for sure. And he is so proud of his scar.”
See Michael’s fund-raising page at https://cmrf.org/user/michael-6