A CORK man operating a transport service for seriously ill kids voiced concern about children missing chemotherapy appointments amid infection fears during the pandemic.
Blackpool native, Tony Heffernan said he was alarmed to hear of children missing chemotherapy appointments and appealed to the parents of children undergoing such treatments in Cork to consider the BUMBLEance charity.
The children’s ambulance service provides safe transportation for young patients to homes, hospitals, hospices, treatment centres, and respite centres across Ireland.
It also offers an Angel Trip service, for terminally ill children making their final journey home.
“A significant number of trips have been cancelled due to hospitals cancelling surgeries,” Tony said.
“While chemotherapy appointments are still running parents have been very worried about the infection risk to their child.
“They are so worried, in fact, that they have not been going to get the chemotherapy. Parents are in a difficult situation.”
He said this issue is not confined to Cork.
“It’s happening everywhere, all we can do is urge people with children having chemo to please continue attending all the appointments,” he said.
“Where we can help we will. Any person reading this who is anxious can rest assured that we are used to handling children with high risk infection and we have very effective procedures in place to make sure we can look after them as well as we possibly can.
“Our hope is to take away some of the stress at this difficult time that is escalated when you have a sick child.
"We have kids who are in and out for treatment every week. All we can do is keep operating as best we can.”
He said that knowing there are families still unaware of the service is a huge source of worry.
“It’s one of those things you can’t get away from,” he said.
“You just want everyone who needs it to be able to use the service.
"We have to do what is absolutely best for the child-first and foremost and take it from there.
“We are always surprised to learn that there are families who haven’t heard of BUMBLEance.
"All we can do is spread the word and see where we are in a couple of months.”
Tony described the importance of continuing cancer treatments for children during the pandemic.
“Treatable cancer is not the worst diagnosis for a child but when it’s your own child it feels like the worst in the world,” he said.
“Of course parents are afraid of it.
“They are very scared, but what’s important with an illness like this is consistency and that children get the treatment they need when they need it.”
He advised the parents of young cancer patients not to be afraid of using the BUMBLEance.
“We make sure that our little king and queen bees are protected.
"Many of the children we cater for have reduced immune systems anyway so the standards we have for avoiding infections are very high.”
Tony described how parents are faced with overwhelming challenges during these trying times.
“There is no rule book to deal with something like this. Parents of children with an illness have to mind them like they would any sick child.
"However, they also have to keep them entertained during the pandemic like any other parent.
"The situation at the moment has heightened the difficulties that were already there.”
According to Tony, the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in a huge loss in donations for the organisation.
“Our biggest fear at the moment is undoing all the good work we have done as the fundraising has virtually stopped,” he said.
“We will keep going until the money runs out but we are asking for the public’s help to make sure this doesn’t happen.”
The charity was started by Tony and his wife Mary Heffernan, whose children Saoirse and Liam both succumbed to Batten disease — a condition relating to the nervous system — in 2011 and 2014 respectively when they just were five years old.
"Despite losing their own children, the couple is still passionate about helping as many other children as they possibly can.
“We are not doing this for the benefit of our own children. Our own children are gone.
"We had Liam’s sixth anniversary in May. Saoirse’s birthday is in June and Liam’s would have been in July.
"This is a sensitive time of the year for us but all we’re trying to do is keep the show on the road.
"We need people to keep coming up with weird and wonderful ideas in order to do that.”
He said that the charity has carried out a number of angel trips in Cork for children making their final journey home or to a hospice.
“We had to drive Saoirse home when she died,” he said.
“However, we got to travel in the BUMBLEance with Liam.
"We know the difference between bringing your child home on your own and having the support on that very very hard trip so you can make the most of that last car journey together.”
To donate or find further information on the BUMBLEance charity visit www.bumbleance.com.