THE world's first interactive children's ambulance was revealed on Friday and is the brainchild of Keel-native Tony Heffernan, who along with his wife Mary, founded the Saoirse Foundation in March 2010 after their late daughter.
The BUMBLEance is the most technologically advanced ambulance on the planet and the Kerry registered vehicle will be used to transport sick children to scheduled appointments between home and the various National Treatment Centres and Hospice/Respite Centres around the country.
It made its first transport last week, when it took six year-old Aisling Quaid, who suffers from a brain tumour, to Dublin for her treatment. Aisling's parents are said to be "over the moon", according to Tony Heffernan.
The BUMBLEance, which is based in Lexlip, Co Kildare, came about from Tony and Mary's own personal experience of bringing Saorise to hospital in Dublin and realising the need for such a facility.
"We saw the stress our late daughter Saoirse experienced when undertaking many ambulance journeys from the family home to the National Children's Hospitals in Dublin. We decided that there was no point doing nothing about it," said Tony.
The project was funded solely by the Saoirse foundation, which receives no state funding, and is hopeful the support from the business community and members of the public will keep the BUMBLEance in operation.
"The hardest part about developing this ambulance was getting the money for it," said Tony. "Things like this take time but we hope to have five BUMBLEances in operation by the end of 2015, one for each province and one for Dublin," he added.
"It is going to be difficult to satisfy everyone's needs, but this just further justifies expansion," said Tony. At present the HSE have two children's ambulances, however these are merely outdated machines that are designated for children's transport only, according to Tony.
Members of the public will be able to message or tweet their best wishes to the child on-board, who can track their progress using satellite monitoring. There are also two fridges available to the family, to store necessary food, beverages and medicine.
"There is no doubt that the child friendly, fun and sensory engaging BUMBLEance will serve to decrease the levels of fear and anxiety of young children who have to travel to and from hospital by ambulance," said Joanna Fortune, Child Physiologist at Solamh Clinic.