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Wednesday 26 July 2017

Ray of light as first ever hospice for children opens doors

Mark Hilliard

JUST days before she died from leukaemia, 15-year-old Lynn McKenna received a handwritten card from President Mary McAleese.

It was, said her mother, Jane, amongst the most treasured moments of her final days.

Not long before that, Lynn's only sibling Laura had died following several operations on her heart.

Yesterday, in one of her final functions as head of State, President McAleese opened the country's first ever hospice for sick children in their name.

It was all made possible by their parents. Seven years of tireless fundraising brought about the LauraLynn House on the grounds of the Children's Sunshine Home on the Leopardstown Road, Dublin 18.

Cost

Its €5.5m cost was raised independently of state support by the former LauraLynn Hospice Foundation and its founders Jane and Brendan McKenna.

The hospice foundation has now been disbanded and the operators of the Sunshine Home are in discussions with the HSE to secure funding for the future.

Yesterday, as the crowds of parents and supporters circled the new facility, Mrs McAleese expressed exactly why such a facility is crucial to the families of children with life-limiting conditions.

"This is a day of triumph ... a day when we take the words happy and sad and merge them into that amazing mix of feelings for which there really isn't a word," she said.

"But it's a word that people here live with all the time. We think of Laura's and Lynn's deaths and we think of their mum and dad and we think of the dreadful tragedy ... and how that would impact on a person's life and what it would do to you.

"For so many people it would drive into an isolation; it would drive you into a lostness and I am sure there were days when it did do exactly that.

"But it brought them beyond that to reach out to other families to try and put together a place and a space so that other families would know a joy, would know a support."

And the new facility will offer just that. The eight-bedroom house provides comfortable living facilities for children and their families designed to provide the best home support, respite and end-of-life care.

A 'Butterfly Suite' will accommodate loved ones after a child passes away.

Yesterday's launch was framed by the poignant memories of its namesakes and thoughts of the children who will themselves see out their final days in its caring environs.

Laura McKenna was born with a hole in her heart and underwent several operations before her death at the age of four in 1999.

On the day of her final surgery, her sister Lynn, who was 13 at the time, was diagnosed with leukaemia. She died at the age of 15 in 2001.

"President McAleese sent a beautiful Easter plant and an even more beautiful handwritten card to Lynn literally just days before she died," her mother Jane told the ceremony yesterday.

"Lynn had some wonderful things in those last weeks; every minute of which she enjoyed until her body began to wind down and even then she got wonderful things.

"But I can honestly say I think it was the highest point in her last few days."

Irish Independent

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