A cancer diagnosis was made less traumatic for one family, thanks to an outreach medical service offered by the Mercy University Hospital, and now the family is fundraising to make sure it’s available to others who are in the same situation.
A CORK couple’s lives were turned upside down when their youngest son was diagnosed with leukaemia just weeks before his third birthday.
Dunmanway man Noel Kelleher, and his wife Coeurena from Ballincollig, were devastated when Dara was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), and was facing into three years of intensive treatment.
‘I cannot describe that initial inner panic when we got the diagnosis, while still trying to keep your head and be strong for the family,’ said Noel, who is a teacher in Clonakilty Community College.
‘Disbelief, fear, worry and endless emotions just came flooding in.
‘But as a parent I suppose you quickly realise that feeling sorry for the situation you find yourself in won’t get you too far, so resilience kicks in and you prepare to fight for your son’s life,’ he said.
The first nine months after Dara’s diagnosis in January 2020 were a roller coaster, remembers Coeurena. ‘The pandemic was in full swing and like for many others, it was certainly stressful. No one could predict how Covid would have affected Dara and in the first year of his treatment he spent 70 nights in hospital,’ she said.
But one of the first rays of light on their journey was being told that Dara’s treatment would be carried out in the Mercy University Hospital in Cork which meant some normality for the family – Noel and Coeurena are also parents to Noah (10) and Jack (9).
‘Dara spent 10 nights in Our Lady’s Hospital in Crumlin undergoing intensive treatment and he had to go back every 12 weeks for the duration of treatment for a lumbar puncture under general anaesthetic.
‘But knowing that otherwise he would be cared for so close to home in Ballincollig was a big boost,’ said Coeurena, who is also a secondary school teacher.
‘He had an outstanding medical team of doctors and nurses in the Safari Unit in the MUH led by Dr Clodagh Ryan.
‘This amazing team got to know and love Dara as if he was their own and cared for him unconditionally,’ said Noel.
Along with this, the family availed of the Mercy’s Poons (paediatric outreach oncology nursing service).
This is the only service of its kind in Ireland, and allows children with cancer to receive vital treatment in the comfort of their own home, helping to cut back on hospital visits.
Poons has provided immeasurable support for the Kelleher family, as well as some of Cork’s youngest patients and their families, with 45 families using the service in 2021 alone, and 550 home visits saving them up to €85,000.
‘This unique service was invaluable and the patience of the nurses while treating Dara was incredible. Trying the administer treatment to a three-year-old who doesn’t understand why he is being subjected to all these medicines is very hard,’ said Coeurena.
In the three-and-a-half years that have followed the diagnosis, Dara has received intensive treatment from the Mercy University Hospital, including approximately 120 overnight hospital admissions, which including access to Poons has ensured his ongoing successful treatment.
Now his family want to give something back and help raise funds for Poons which needs €30,000 a year to keep mobile.
They have organised an event ‘Dara gives back – Pedal for the Poons’, a 12-hour indoor cycle challenge in aid of the Mercy Hospital Foundation, which will take place in Ballincollig GAA Club on Saturday, 22nd April and which is aiming to surpass the €40,000 mark.
With €37,000 already raised, that target is well on track to be surpassed.
‘Upon Dara’s diagnosis our world was turned upside down in an instant.
‘Fortunately, the enduring support and kindness of so many; family, friends, colleagues, Dara’s GP Dr Denis Twomey and Ballincollig GAA was invaluable, and words can never express our gratitude. So now it is our hope to give back by creating this event,’ said Coeurena.
Dara’s dad Noel, together with Mike McGrath, Danny Dwyer and Pearse O’Malley, take on the gruelling 12-hour cycle from 5am-5pm, and collectively will complete over 1,250kms.
Throughout the day, over 30 other cyclists will join them to do relays and lend their support.
An under-age blitz for girls and boys from eight to 13 years will also take place at the club on the day; with lots more exciting additions to the event to be announced.
‘The response to the fundraiser has been overwhelming, we couldn’t have predicted, not only the money raised so far, but the effort the committee would put in to make it a success.
‘The generosity of people has been just amazing to say the least and we thank everyone most sincerely for that, starting with our title sponsors Danny Dwyer Building, Blackwater Motors, Avro and AMS,’ said Noel.
Coeurena added: ‘This is our way of saying “Thank You” for caring for our son.
‘This service, and ongoing support of so many, has helped family and school life to continue for us all.
‘Dara is now a very happy six-year-old, who loves playing sport with his brothers Noah and Jack, and who has made lots of friends.
‘His fun-loving nature, resilience and determination is remarkable. Our hope is that in raising money, Poons can continue to support families like ourselves and ease the journey a little,’ she said.
‘It’s time to pay it forward and to make sure these services are continued and extended to other counties so other boys and girls coming after Dara can get their chance, just as Dara did.’
• To donate visit https://www.idonate.ie/fundraiser/daragivesback, or go along to Ballincollig GAA Club on Saturday, 22nd April.