A father whose seven-year-old son passed away from a brain tumour while watching cartoons in the arms of his mother has thanked a Cork community for giving his child “a magical send-off”.
Conor Harnett passed away two weeks ago with his funeral taking place four days later.
His father David told the Neil Prendeville Show on Cork’s RedFM today that he would forever be in the debt of his wonderful friends and neighbours in Killavullen.
Mr Harnett described the death of his son as peaceful as could have been hoped for under the circumstances.
“My small man passed away from a brain tumour in his brain stem on April 3 last.
"He died in his mother's arms watching cartoons. His brother slept with him the night he passed away 'to keep him warm'.
"We had the funeral on Monday, April 6, and it was just magical. It was not the traditional Irish funeral.”
Little Conor was diagnosed with the DIPG - a Brain Tumour in the Brain Stem - in April of last year. He had been experiencing difficulties with his balance and with swallowing food.
He was referred to Mercy University Hospital in Cork city for tests before being sent to Cork University Hospital where the tumour was found following an MRI scan.
Conor then went to Temple Street Children’s Hospital for a biopsy.
Mr Harnett said when they heard about the brain tumour it was like a train going through the wall.
“We were hoping they would operate and take it out. I went with him in the ambulance that night and we arrived around 12. He went asleep. We were in Temple Street for 10 days.
"They did biopsies and the second one gave us what we did not want to hear. We were told what we were dealing with.
"It was a brain tumour called DIPG which is in the brain stem so basically the medical diagnosis for that is the same today as it was 40 years ago. There is no advance in It and it was terminal."
David said the consultant in Temple Street told them that life expectancy was going to be short.
“He basically told us go and make memories. That was hard to swallow so we left the hospital the following day.
“He was still healthy and strong at the time and they decided to go down the road of radiotherapy and chemo. He had 13 radiotherapy sessions and Conor was doing well.
"He was walking but with aid from us. All his left-hand side was not doing what his brain was telling it to do.
"He went back to school for a while. He loved school he wasn’t able to do what he wanted to do and that killed him. He wanted to be a six-year-old without being helped.
"We didn’t tell him. What we told him was there was an ant in his head and the doctors were trying to get it out.
"We brought it down to a child’s level and once he knew that he was happy.
"But he was very upset he couldn’t run around with his brother and do the things he would normally do. What he really missed was food because Conor couldn’t swallow anything. He was fed through a tube."
David went on to describe how life came to a standstill for him and his family.
He said: "Myself and his Mam Jacqueline we were 24/7 with him. He went downhill Christmas 2019.
"With this you are given nine to 18 months and January was the ninth month and he started to deteriorate a lot.
"He was paralysed on the left side, he couldn’t close his left eye - he was all aware but his body was locked.
"We had Santy for him but he was in no mood, no fun. He was lying on the couch looking at his presents which we opened for him.
"He was very angry we had to do that for him. He was always a very independent child and he wanted to do everything himself. And that was all taken from him.
"His condition deteriorated on a weekly basis since then and he passed away peacefully on April 3rd, just gone in his mother’s arms watching cartoons.“
David said Conor was really courageous and never complained about his illness. The couple had been renting a house in Killavullen but moved to Mallow.
“Killavullen to him was home, he loved it. He loved messing and playing in the river with the dogs. We were in the new house with him and he passed four days after we moved in.
"He was in bed all day and he didn’t want to get up. I brought him down around 7pm and sat him on the couch. He was watching cartoons with his older brother. Jackie was sitting with him on the couch he died there.
"The three of us were together and we held him. We put him back to bed and his brother Rory slept with him to keep him warm and the following day I rang the undertakers and they came."
David said, thankfully, they had made arrangements and choices around the funeral.
“Conor was mad about Batman and I asked the undertaker if he could get him a Batman coffin and he did. I wanted to celebrate his life.”
The family had planned to let Conor’s schoolmates come in and sign his coffin but they had to ditch that plan because of Covid-19. However, locals didn’t let them down.
David said: “The minute we left home with Conor taking the back road from Mallow to Killavullen people were standing at gaps, gates, doorways. boreens.
"It was so magical and their waves were like a tap on the shoulder. We went out that road, and his best friend was standing with his dad with Batman signs all painted.
"We came into the village of Killavullen which Conor loved so much and a lot of people stood at their doors and waved. When we arrived at the Bridge all the local clubs all gathered. It was magical."
David has urged parents to appreciate their children.
“All I will say is spoil your children because you don’t know when it is going to change. Within a shot it can all be taken away. Conor got nine to 18 months and he was 25 days short of 12 months when he died.
"He went fast and without pain. I look at it now he is not suffering and he will always be with us.”