Trevor Laffan: Suffer the little children... to our country’s terrible shame

Trevor Laffan reflects on the case of Adam Terry, aged 10, who is in constant pain and has faced multiple delays to important surgery
Trevor Laffan: Suffer the little children... to our country’s terrible shame

Adam Terry has been waiting over four years for urgent scoliosis surgery. His mother, Christine said she will go to the ends of the earth for her son.e Pic courtesy of Brian O'Connell

LIKE everyone else who has ever worked in the emergency services, I came across many difficult situations during my 36 years as a police officer.

Tragic scenes were never too far away and had to be dealt with before moving on to the next. It thickens the skin and as a result, I consider myself to be fairly resilient; it’s not easy to shock me.

Having said that, I’m not completely heartless either and dealing with children who are suffering is one thing I still struggle with.

One of the worst experiences I had during my time in An Garda Siochana concerned the death of a young girl who had suffered a serious injury in a freak accident. We arrived as the ambulance crew were doing their best for her, but it wasn’t looking good.

We got her to the hospital as quickly as possible to give her every chance. A medical team was on standby, and she was rushed to the Accident and Emergency Department. They tried everything to revive her but unfortunately, it was too late so then it was time to meet the parents to give them the sad news. That wasn’t easy.

She was removed to the City Morgue and later that evening I had to go there for the post-mortem examination. It was hard seeing her little body lying there. I stroked her cheek and half expected her to open her eyes and smile up at me.

It wasn’t easy for the pathologist either. Even though she examines bodies all the time, she told me that dealing with children was always difficult.

That child was the same age as my own daughter at that time and I couldn’t help but think of her. We’re supposed to protect them at that age and keep them safe but it’s not always possible.

Accidents will happen but there are circumstances too where children are suffering unnecessarily and that’s just not good enough.

Many years ago, during my trips to Belarus, I regularly visited orphanages and other institutions where conditions were less than favourable. I was uncomfortable meeting the children living there. They had nothing to smile about and very little hope of ever finding a better life for themselves.

Some of them lived in these institutions until they reached 18 years of age and then moved into adult facilities where they remained for the rest of their lives. Knowing they had little prospect of ever improving their situation was hard to take so I took the easy way out and remained outside where possible to avoid looking into their eyes.

President Alexander Lukashenko is responsible for their welfare, and I don’t have much confidence in his leadership. During the Covid-19 pandemic, he advised his citizens to get on their tractors, drink vodka and take saunas to get rid of the virus. I’m not impressed with how he looks after the children either but then again, who are we to criticise?

Listening to the Claire Byrne show on RTÉ recently I couldn’t help but wonder about our own failings. Adam Terry is a ten-year old boy from County Cork who has scoliosis. He has faced multiple delays to his required surgery and will have to wait another six to nine months before he’s treated. It was difficult listening to him while he told his story to reporter Brian O’Connell. He is in constant pain which he described as ‘almost paralysing.’

Adam Terry with a teddy.
Adam Terry with a teddy.

“It’s really sore and sometimes I have to lie down and roll around for it to actually stop. Sometimes I have to crack my back to relieve the pain.’ He said he feels as though he is “at the bottom of the barrel. Nobody is coming out to find me in the lost and found. To be honest, sometimes I feel like I’m crying myself to sleep because it’s so unfair. It just makes me angry and frustrated and sad.”

His mother Christine broke down in tears and I suspect many of the listeners did too as she told of the effect the long wait has had on Adam and his family. She said that every day he’s been left, it gets worse, and the initial surgery is now deemed too dangerous as his spine has moved even more in the last two years.

“They’re now going to have to do a different surgery, they’re not going to get the same results that they hoped for,” she said.

A few weeks earlier I heard another interview on Today with Claire Byrne, where a consultant paediatric radiologist told of the case of a pre-teen who had been referred to her with a neurological condition but was told they could not get an appointment until 2035. That’s 14 years away.

Dr Gabrielle Colleran told the radio show that such a delay was farcical and was a huge source of frustration for the profession as well as the families involved. Every child and adult should be able to access care “in a timely fashion” in less than six weeks, she said.

The day following the budget, Michael McGrath, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and Paschal Donohoe, Minister for Finance were both asked about the case of young Adam Terry. Claire Byrne played a bit of his interview for them, and they agreed it shouldn’t be happening. Of course it shouldn’t, but it is. Taoiseach Michael Martin said the situation is unacceptable. Leo Varadkar Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment said he believes most people will be better off as a result of Budget 2022.

There are lots of parents and children, like the Terry family, who won’t agree with him. They feel abandoned. They don’t need sympathy or promises, they need immediate action. Their kids are in pain.

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