Wednesday 28 September 2016

Irish girl Zoe (4) to travel to the UK to undergo stem cell treatment as arthritis causes damage to organs

Sasha Brady

Published 06/02/2016 | 12:32

Zoe in Our Lady's Hospital in Crumlin
Zoe in Our Lady's Hospital in Crumlin

Zoe Lonergan will travel to the UK later this year to undergo stem cell treatment for a condition called juvenile arthritis.

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It's hard to imagine a four-year-old child dealing with the crippling pain of arthritis but that's exactly what little Zoe Lonergan has to face every day.

The little girl, from Firhouse in Dublin, hides the struggle of constant pain behind her beaming smile.

"She's a happy child, she does her best to get on with things despite the pain," her uncle Aidan said when speaking with Independent.ie.

Zoe Lonergan will head to the UK for stem cell treatment
Zoe Lonergan will head to the UK for stem cell treatment

"She has all kinds of reactions to the disease, including a turn in her eye. She suffers from flare ups. There are certain days when it will affect her more than others.

"Some days she's fantastic. We were up in the house on Sunday and she was running around with all of the other nieces and nephews.

"However, there are other days you'll pop up and you can see that she'd love more than anything to be playing with the other kids but she just doesn't have the energy."

The Dublin youngster was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis when she was just two-years-old and makes fortnightly visits to Crumlin Children's Hospital where she receives blood tests and an infusion of steroids.

Zoe Lonergan
Zoe Lonergan

"She calls the injections 'Freddie'", said Aidan.

"When she heads to the hospital it's because 'Freddie' is thirsty and needs a drink."

Juvenile arthritis is a condition that swells the blood and causes loss of motion in the joints. It's a debilitating disease which leaves the sufferer in constant pain, unable to perform some of the most basic tasks.

The exact cause of the condition isn’t known, but it is thought to be an autoimmune disorder. This means the immune system attacks the body instead of defending the body against infection and other harmful substances.

Despite the ongoing treatment, doctors have confirmed that her condition is getting worse and the HSE has partnered with the NHS to send Zoe to Newcastle for stem cell treatment as her current medication is damaging her organs.

"They're trying to stop her current immune system from working," said Aidan.

"They'll shut that down and insert a new immune system into Zoe. As far as I'm aware, there's only one shot at this. If her body rejects the new immune system... she probably won't come out of it."

Around 1,000 Irish children suffer from juvenile arthritis and Zoe's mother Natalie said that doctors told her that her daughter was the youngest case they had seen when she was diagnosed in 2013.

Zoe (4) with mother Natalie, dad David and sister Ali (1)
Zoe (4) with mother Natalie, dad David and sister Ali (1)

Little Zoe will travel with her mother to the UK later in the year for treatment, after a donor is found. Her dad will stay at home in Ireland with the couple's one-year-old daughter Ali.

"They'll be apart for six months. The NHS are covering the cost of the treatment but Natalie will need finances to support herself and Zoe when they are in Newcastle," said Aidan.

The family have set up an appeal to cover the costs. For For information or to lend your support visit the website or Facebook page.

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