A BRAVE Irish toddler will fly out on the government jet today for marathon life-changing surgery in the US.
Donal and Rosa O'Connor, from Dublin, told the Irish Independent that they have been "absolutely overwhelmed" with messages of support for their 13-month-old son Sergio.
The little boy -- who has a twin brother Tadhg -- has bravely battled a rare digestive syndrome since birth -- but is a happy, cheerful toddler despite having spent most of his life in hospital.
"We've been waiting so long for Sergio to get the go-ahead for the procedure and we're hoping and praying now that everything will go well," Mr O'Connor said.
He will travel with little Sergio on the government jet to the Boston University Children's Hospital, with the plane then bringing back Dublin toddler Elie Madden.
The 18-month-old baby girl-- also a twin -- has undergone a pioneering procedure to grow a new oesophagus at the hospital and has been given the all-clear from US doctors to return home.
Meanwhile, Sergio was born with a rare condition which has left him with an incomplete oesophagus, which normally would link his mouth to his stomach. To prevent his trachea from collapsing, the toddler has had to be fed via a tube directly into his stomach.
Sergio has been kept in Our Lady's Children's Hospital Crumlin since birth, with only brief visits home allowed.
On each visit to his Donnycarney home, Sergio requires full-time medical supervision.
Because of his condition, he also needs constant ventilation to prevent him from choking.
Sergio and Tadhg are Rosa and Donal's first children -- and they now face spending between three and six months in the US after Sergio undergoes marathon surgery to repair his oesophagus in a top Boston hospital.
Boston University Children's Hospital is one of only a handful of facilities in the world which undertakes the painstaking procedure which can last between eight and 12 hours.
Sergio had been scheduled to undergo surgery last month but a bed didn't become available.
Now, the Irish boy has been given the go-ahead for surgery within the next week -- and will fly out from Baldonnel today on the government jet.
Sergio also faces months of rehabilitation in the US.
The HSE has agreed to fund the Boston operation.
However, the O'Connor family still has to raise €100,000 -- to pay for the daunting costs of staying in Boston for up to six months and bringing Sergio back to the US for check-ups.
Donal and Rosa are committed to staying by Sergio's side in the US -- while Tadhg will stay, at least for a time, with their family back in Dublin. It can cost up to €1,000 a week to stay in Boston.
Mr O'Connor said the couple have been touched by public support for Sergio's plight.
"People have been absolutely amazing," he said.
Mr O'Connor is from a family of well-known traditional musicians and his father Michael said everyone was praying for little Sergio.
"We have been waiting for this day for so long," he said.
Messages of support have been sent to Sergio and his family from The Chieftains, The Dubliners, Frances Black and Damien Dempsey.
Donations can be made to the Sergio O'Connor Fund, BoI, Killester, Dublin, or Mitchelstown Credit Union in Co Cork.