Puppy love was light at the end of the tunnel...

Ahead of Wish Day this Friday, EMMA CONNOLLY talks to a Cork family whose little girl’s dream came true, thanks to the charity
Puppy love was light at the end of the tunnel...
Aoibhinn with her Maltese dog, Bella. Picture: Dan Linehan

Ahead of Wish Day this Friday, EMMA CONNOLLY talks to a Cork family whose little girl’s dream came true, thanks to the charity

IMAGINE almost losing your baby to a devastating illness, only to find yourself thrust into a similar nightmare six months later with another child?

That’s the unbelievable scenario that parents to three girls, Patricia Leahy and her husband found themselves in.

At just 12 days old back in 2015, baby Kate fell seriously ill with meningitis and went on to develop hydrocephalus. Initially treated in Cork University Hospital, she underwent brain surgery in Temple Street where, despite real fears of losing her, she pulled through.

Naturally, Patricia admitted the following months at home in Carrignavar were filled with worry as they kept a close eye on their baby — but nobody could have imagined what was to unfold.

That July their eldest daughter Aoibhinn complained of a headache, and developed a high fever and quickly it became clear she was seriously ill.

Again, after treatment in CUH she was taken to Temple Street under garda escort where Patricia said things weren’t looking great with a real and terrifying fear she wouldn’t pull through, as “she was even sicker than Kate had been.” She spent a few weeks in their ICU and was diagnosed with ADEM — Acute disseminated encephalomyelitis — an immune-mediated inflammatory demyelinating condition that mainly affects the white matter of the brain and spinal cord.

After undergoing intense plasma exchange, and waking up on a ventilator, Aoibhinn was initially paralysed from her neck down.

They were very much in unknown territory, said Patricia, but gradually her sensation returned, although a long journey to recovery lay ahead.

A month in Temple Street, with intense physio, was followed by a month and a half in CUH as well as treatment sessions in the National Rehab Centre. Aoibhinn is now back in school and enjoying life in first class in Scoil an Athar Tadhg.

Mum Patricia with daughters, Alice, Kate and Aoibhinn.
Mum Patricia with daughters, Alice, Kate and Aoibhinn.

And putting a huge smile on the brave youngster’s face — and the entire family’s — is maltese puppy Bella who was a gift to her from Make a Wish Ireland who grant the wishes of children aged between three and 17 years living with life-threatening medical conditions.

Aoibhinn had seen a maltese puppy on one occasion when she was in the Rehab Centre — so with the help of a family member who got the ball rolling that was her wish which was granted by the charity.

Patricia describes the puppy — the fourth girl in the house! — as the ‘light at the end of the tunnel” and describes the work of the charity as amazing.

This year in Cork alone they made memories for 31 brave children and their families and since they were set up in in 1992 they have granted over 1,800 wishes in Ireland.

That’s all the more incredible considering they depend entirely on donations and fundraising.

Aoibhinn was thrown a huge party at their HQ in Dun Laoghaire where Patricia said the whole family were made a complete fuss of.

“I’ve seen first hand the work Make-a-Wish do and it’s really amazing. It’s a fantastic charity and you don’t hear enough about them.”

To support the ongoing happiness they give to children and their families from Cork and throughout Ireland, Make-A-Wish needs the help of volunteers in Cork to continue their important work.

Patricia is leading the call for people to get involved in their annual flagship fundraising Day, Wish Day, on Friday, March 31 when 150 local volunteers are needed.

Volunteers are simply asked to give a few hours of their time to sell wristbands and badges for €2 each.

Irene Timmins, Head of Fundraising for Make-A-Wish, said: “Make-A-Wish offers positivity in an extremely dark and anxious time. Every child deserves that.

“We are approaching our 2,000th wish for Irish kids which would not be possible without our volunteers. All we are asking is a few hours from the people of Cork on Friday, March 31 to sell some of our wish bands and badges, which cost €2 each, with 100% of proceeds to Make-A- Wish.

“Wishes make memories that last many lifetimes, but we cannot make them without our volunteers.”

Patricia said that “as a parent you only really appreciate what you have after you are faced with losing it.”

Patricia Leahy with her daughter Aoibhinn and dog Bella.
Patricia Leahy with her daughter Aoibhinn and dog Bella.

Also mum to three year old Alice, she said: “You learn to be more accepting. For us, not having the girls in our lives was a scary, horrendous and real possibility. You cherish them even more.”

Patricia wishes to especially thank Conor and Oonagh Delaney; family; friends; staff at Gabriel Ward Temple St, and the intensive care team there, Scoil an Athar Tadhg, Carrignavar and Louise of Make-A-Wish Ireland.

MORE ABOUT WISH DAY

Wish Day began in 2013 and the event has grown from strength to strength with thanks to the support of Make-A-Wish volunteers and the general public.

Last year’s event raised over €80,000 and this year Make-A-Wish are hoping to raise over €100,000 to help them reach their target of 210 wishes in 2017. In order to achieve this, they need at least 1,500 volunteers nationwide.

Since its inception in 1992, Make-A-Wish in Ireland has granted wishes for over 1,900 children and realised their greatest wish and experienced the hope, strength and joy each wish provides.

In all possible cases Make-A-Wish grants the child’s first wish, ensuring that all immediate family members participate. In doing so it provides long-lasting and happy memories for those relatives, whatever the future may hold.

To continue with its work and succeed in its aims, Make-A-Wish rely overwhelmingly on the kindness of the general public as they receive no government funding.

 Aoibhinn with Bella and her sister Alice.
 Aoibhinn with Bella and her sister Alice.

Wish Day will take place across Ireland on March 31 and Make-A-Wish volunteers will be located throughout Cork, including Ballincollig, Bandon, Bishopstown, Blackpool, Carrigaline, Charleville, the city centre, Cobh, Dennehys Cross, Douglas, Fermoy, Macroom, Mallow, Midleton, Mitchelstown, Skibbereen, Youghal.

To sign up to volunteer visit www.makeawish.ie or contact Daragh on (01) 2052011 /volunteer@makeawish.ie

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