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Brave Conor thanks his helicopter heroes

WHEN the call came through at 5.30am, the Reidy family did not hesitate -- their bags had been packed and waiting at the front door for days.

A liver had become available in London for their five-year-old son Conor, desperately ill with a rare form of childhood cancer, and time was of the essence as they hurried from their home in Booterstown, Co Dublin.

Meanwhile, across the city, another call had been placed and air corps crew based at Baldonnel aerodrome were frantically carrying out last-minute checks on the helicopter and obtaining weather reports for the trip.

Yesterday, the little boy, now aged six, and his parents Gerardine and Michael Reidy were back at the Baldonnel base to thank the pilot and crew who flew him to London on August 11, 2009, for the life-saving liver transplant.

In his grey school uniform of St Mary's National School in Booterstown and carefully examining a special new teddy bear wearing an Air Corps t-shirt, Conor sat into the helicopter for photographs.

He remembered the early morning dash across the Irish Sea in the AW 139 helicopter to Kings College Hospital in London very clearly. "I remember we went past all the red lights," he said.

"What I remember most about him that day was that even though he was so weak and quiet, he was copying all the moves that the crew made," recalled Captain Anne Brogan.

"To see him back again, so full of life and chat is just amazing -- it's lovely to see how he is getting on."

The Air Corps are on constant standby for air ambulance duty, with 80 air ambulance missions flown in 2009.

Such missions include the transfer of organ and transplant teams, as well as acutely ill patients within Ireland and to the UK.

Conor was diagnosed with hepatoblastoma -- a rare form of liver cancer affecting one in a million children -- just four months before his transplant. One day he complained of a pain in his tummy that was getting worse. He was diagnosed at Crumlin Children's hospital that very day and began chemo just six days later.

His parents watched in horror as their vibrant young son "lost his personality", becoming so weak and listless that he was unable to walk, as well as losing his hair and becoming very thin.

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They were told that Conor would be at the top of the list for a liver transplant and knew they could get the call any day. When it did, they had been waiting just five days.

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