As the new children's hospital site is decided, John Meagher looks at the issues facing existing wards
For six long months, Michael Reidy used to count the paces from the entrance of Crumlin Children's Hospital to the cancer ward where his five-year-old son Conor was.
"It was about 300 steps. It felt like the furthest extremity of the hospital. We got so used to doing that walk. I think I used to count the steps to momentarily take my mind off everything."
It was in April 2009 when the Reidy family's life was turned on its head. Conor was diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer and he -- and his family -- had to get used to life in one of the busiest hospitals in the country.
"I can't say enough about how great the staff were there," Michael says. "But his ward (St John's Ward) was not up to scratch at all. It's cramped and overcrowded and there's practically no privacy to be had.
"That's hard for the kids and it is really difficult for the parents too."
It was only when Conor was airlifted to King's College Hospital in London for his liver transplant that the Reidy family could see what a 21st-Century hospital should really be like.
'When I think of all the money that was sloshing about in the Celtic Tiger, it's a disgrace that wards like St John's still exist," says Michael, who works with Irish Rail.
"And it pains me to think of all the money that has been spent on plans for the new National Children's Hospital, especially on the designs for the Mater site which looked like being a non-runner all along."
It was only this week that St James's Hospital in Dublin's south-inner city was officially ratified as the site of the new children's hospital.
It will not be completed until 2018 at the very earliest.
Yet, the spectre of poor planning and political in-fighting over the new hospital has upset many, including those parents who have experienced the trauma of having seriously ill children.
"I read recently that €33m has been spent on the new hospital so far -- without a single brick being built, and yet it would take just €8m to transform two wards at Crumlin including St John's," Michael says.
"Such work would greatly improve the quality of life of all those children who need specialist care, today.
"It's all well and good to plan for the future, but what about the seriously ill children of today? How are they being served?"
Conor is doing well and his condition is being monitored carefully, but memory of his chemotherapy treatment continues to haunt his father.
"It was a really tough period for him," Michael says.
"We were lucky in that a liver became available to Conor quite early and my heart goes out to those parents who have to wait an indeterminable about of time before an organ becomes available for their child."
Michael also feels fortunate that the family live in Booterstown, south Dublin, which meant a comparatively short trip to the hospital in Crumlin.
'It's really tough on those parents who live outside the city, particularly those who have to travel long distances," he says.
"There is a shortage of family accommodation at Crumlin, although the Ronald McDonald house certainly provides some relief for them."
In addition, he was grateful for the compassionate support of his employers.
"They were very understanding because I had to take some time off. You need to, to get your head around the enormity of the situation."
After Conor was released, Michael and his wife Geraldine self-published a book under Conor's name, A Lot Can Happen In A Year And A Half, which documented his successful battle with cancer. All proceeds go to Crumlin.
"We're just so lucky that Conor has come through the other side," Michael says.
"The awful reality is that a lot of parents see their children go into hospital and never come out."
A nationwide campaign, The Big Question, has been launched this month to help raise much-needed funds for Crumlin Children's Hospital. Anyone who would like to help organise a quiz on November 22 is asked to log on to www.thebigquestion.ie or lo-call 1890 507 508.