A Cork woman whose husband died in her arms while she was pregnant with their second child has been gifted a special present on the week of his anniversary.
Susan O’Sullivan from Blarney is travelling to Disneyland Paris tomorrow with her daughters Ciara Jane, aged four, and Aoife, aged five, after they were nominated for the trip by the Cork City Hospitals Children’s Club.
The charity is bringing 54 deserving children and seven parents to Disneyland today, along with a number of volunteers.
Susan spoke of how the trip will be a special way to mark her husband Gerad’s anniversary.
The family have come a long way since Gerad’s death from a heart attack and the series of health challenges that followed.
Just months after his death, Susan was faced with the hurdle of having their newborn undergo surgery without him by her side.
“It’s like I’m reliving someone else’s nightmare,” she said, recalling the ordeal.
“You don’t know how strong you are until you’re put into a situation like this and you just have to get on with it.”
At just two days old, Ciara Jane had to undergo surgery in Dublin for duodenal atresia — an intestinal obstruction found in newborn babies.
Her older sister Aoife had also been operated on at two days old for a heart defect.
Susan and Gerad had vowed to bring Ciara Jane to Disneyland when she turned five.
“We always said we wouldn’t bring her until she was the age she is now so she could really enjoy it,” Susan said.
“Now that Gerad’s anniversary is on Friday it just feels like the right time.”
The anniversary of Gerad’s death will be a bitter-sweet time for Susan.
“I was around nine weeks pregnant when Gerad died in my arms,” she recalled.
“It was around 5.30am when he arrived home from work after a shift.
“I was suffering from indigestion and he was bringing me back a milkshake on his way home. He picked it up in a late-night McDonalds, knowing that it was the only thing that helped.”
The last word Gerad uttered to his wife before he died from the heart attack were “I’m sorry”.
Susan recalled: “There was so much fog that morning that the ambulance was having trouble finding it’s way to our house.
“I had to pick Aoife up while trying to wave my arms and let them know where we were. I had spent an hour trying to resuscitate Gerad before he passed away.
“He had been on his way home from work so in some ways I’m glad that he died at home with me, rather than behind the wheel.
“Even if it was on the kitchen floor it was still in the comfort of my arms. I don’t think I would have been able to cope if another life had been claimed.”
Susan said she is glad that Gerad had the chance to attend the pregnancy scan before his death.
“I’m just happy that he got to see and hear Ciara Jane’s heartbeat before he died.”
Gerad had been a huge support to Susan during their first daughter Aoife’s diagnosis with Shone’s complex, a collection of eight left-sided obstructive heart lesions.
It was an anatomy scan that initially revealed Aoife had a blockage in one of the main arteries leading to her heart.
A plan of action was implemented to ensure that Aoife had immediate access to the appropriate medical intervention following her delivery.
After a scheduled Caesarean section, Aoife was born on November 4 before being whisked off to Crumlin Children’s Hospital for open-heart surgery.
“Gerad stayed with Aoife in the Coombe after she was born and the staff would always keep a spare dinner for Gerad. They were very good to us,” said Susan.
“I can still remember how Gerad made sure I got to hold her before she left. The ambulance guys actually came into me and said they were under strict instructions to give me a hold.”
Susan also remembers her husband for his “devilment” and his infectious sense of humour.
“I can remember him coming home from work and talking about some of the antics he had been up to with his colleagues at work.
“There were times when he couldn’t get to the end of his story because he was laughing so hard.”
The support Susan received from her immediate family since Gerad’s death has been overwhelming.
“My family were fantastic. I don’t think I would have coped. Without them, I would have had to move to Dublin as a result of Ciara Jane being in hospital.”