THE family of a teenage rugby player, who is critically ill in hospital after suffering a major brain injury while training at Tralee Rugby Club on Saturday, have expressed their eternal gratitude to the emergency services and medical staff who battled to save the boy's life and without whom the family say they would have lost their beloved son.
Thirteen-year-old Ronan Fitzgerald from Churchill, a first year at Mercy Mounthawk Secondary School in Tralee, suffered major bleeding to his brain after he struck his head in an accidental collision while training with Tralee Rugby Club's youth team at the club's grounds at O'Dowd Park in Ballyard.
It was initially believed that he was suffering from concussion and he received assistance from club coaching staff and volunteers. His parents, Sheila Fitzgerald and north Kerry based-garda Brian Fitzgerald, were called and rushed to the scene.
Ronan, who is the cousin of Kerry GAA star Kieran Donaghy, was rushed by car to the Emergency Unit at Kerry General Hospital where the serious nature of his condition was immediately diagnosed.
Following preliminary treatment at KGH he was transferred to Cork University Hospital with as many as eight gardaí providing an escort and clearing traffic along the entire route to ensure the ambulance made it to Cork as quickly as it possibly could.
Thankfully he reached CUH in good time and consultants were able to operate successfully and stop the bleeding on his brain. He remained in intensive care until Monday night when he was taken off a ventilator machine and transferred to the hospital's High Dependency Unit where he remains surrounded by his family.
Ronan's mother Shiela told The Kerryman she would never forget the selfless, brilliant and dedicated staff at KGH and CUH without whom she said Ronan's "miracle" recovery would not have happened.
"The only reason Ronan is still alive is because of the excellent care he received. I don't have enough words to thank everyone who helped him from the ambulance drivers and gardaí to everyone at the KGH emergency unit and at CUH and all the consultants, doctors, nurses and everyone who helped," she said.
"Everyone was superb. From the security man at the door of KGH on up to the people who operated," she said.
"I wouldn't be talking to you today and Ronan wouldn't be here if everyone hadn't done everything to the nth degree. Everyone was so good and we can't thank them enough," said Sheila Fitzgerald.
"You hear so many bad things about the health service. We just want to thank them all from the bottom of our hearts.
"We're a very close family and we're so delighted and relieved Ronan's alive. It's a miracle. When we got to the hospital the emergency consultant said he'd never seen anything like it. Just a few minutes more and Ronan might not have made it."
Sheila said she been inundated with messages of support from the people of Tralee. Students at Mercy Mounthawk have also held a special prayer service for their stricken classmate.