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Brave Niamh (4) runs into new year after life-changing operation


NIAMH Harkin is wasting no time in her ambition to become a farmer after undergoing a life-changing operation on her hip.

Niamh (4), whose dad is a part-time farmer, got a pink tractor from Santa and hopes to add a few cows and sheep to her stock in the coming months.

She was born with a dislocated hip, with her left leg shorter than the other, which puts her at risk of arthritis at a young age.

Niamh, from Clonmany outside Buncrana, Co Donegal, was top priority for an operation to correct her hip condition at Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Dublin but her family suffered the crushing disappointment of having it cancelled five times over the course of nearly a year.

The longer the delay in Niamh getting the surgery, the greater risk she ran of suffering a needless, life-long disability.

However, her ordeal ended when her doctor, orthopaedic surgeon Pat Kiely,and his colleagues, stepped in and operated on Niamh for no fee on Good Friday. He is one of the founders of the charity Straight Ahead, which allows the country's four paediatric orthopaedic surgeons to take suitable children on waiting lists for spinal, hip or knee surgery and give them the operation they desperately need before it is too late.

Thanks to public donations, as well as generous offerings of equipment from medical companies, the doctors were able to fund operations on 12 young patients in 2012.

Niamh's mother Gwen spoke of her joy at seeing the youngster finally get the crucial surgery for the hip dysplasia she was diagnosed with at six months of age.

"She could not walk long distances without her hip becoming sore. She needed to have an operation and was given her first appointment for surgery in May 2011. The staff at the hospital are wonderful but the operation kept being cancelled because of emergency cases."

The operation involved a bone graft to make a socket for Niamh's hip, and after the surgery she wore a brace for seven weeks.

Mr Kiely said the waiting lists for this kind of surgery, which had been at critical levels in recent years, have reduced.

This improvement is in part due to the Special Delivery Unit, set up by Health Minister James Reilly in the Department of Health, which has allowed more flexible use of theatre time and targeted funding for additional operations to be carried out.

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