Saturday 17 August 2019

'€15m settlement brings security... but I ache to hear sound of Eoin's voice' - mother

Anthony and Jean McCallig with their sons Daniel (2), left, and Eoin (5), in Killybegs, Co Donegal. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Anthony and Jean McCallig with their sons Daniel (2), left, and Eoin (5), in Killybegs, Co Donegal. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Laura Lynott

Laura Lynott

The loving mother of a boy with cerebral palsy awarded a €15m settlement from a Dublin maternity hospital said the payment will offer lifetime security, but she still "aches" to hear her son's voice.

Eoin McCallig turned five last Friday and for the first time, the schoolboy's birthday had finally become "a celebration of his life", mother Jean McCallig said.

For almost five years, Jean (41), from Perrystown, Dublin, and husband Anthony (39), from Dunkineely, Co Donegal, have bore the implications of the Coombe Hospital's actions on November 24, 2012, after errors leading up to the birth of their first child.

But finally, last Tuesday, just before Eoin's birthday, the president of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, approved the settlement - to be paid out in minimal instalments - to help Eoin have the best care possible.

"There's thousands of families out there trying to care for their kids and they're on the breadline, so in some ways we're very fortunate," Jean said. "But my biggest grief is I don't know when if Eoin grows older, when he understands his condition, what will he feel will be his biggest loss.

"For me, the biggest loss is his voice, to not hear him talk, shout at me, to scream at me. I'd give anything to hear the sound of his voice.

Eoin McCallig. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Eoin McCallig. Photo: Caroline Quinn

"I look in his eyes and ache, wondering 'what are you thinking?' I just ache to hear his voice."

In the last couple of months, Eoin has made attempts to speak, making noises, and his humour is ever present despite his inability to verbally communicate.

The devoted mother has twice been diagnosed with breast cancer and she had a mastectomy in April this year, while dealing with the stress of fighting a lengthy legal action.

When Eoin was born with severe disabilities, the couple were both forced to give up work to look after him. The McCalligs, who also have a second son Daniel (2), had to live on social welfare and move to four different rented homes between Dublin and Donegal.

"We had one stress on top of another," Jean said while caring for her boys at the family's latest rented home in Co Donegal.

"You feel like it's all going to crumble but it's the same for anyone who's been sick, who has young kids. It's the same for anyone with a disabled child. You get through it because they need you there for them, my children are everything."

The High Court heard last week how the case seemed to involve "error upon error" including a failure to act on instructions to move Jean to a delivery room earlier and to ensure continuous monitoring of the foetal heartbeat.

Right up to the court case, Jean had blamed herself unnecessarily for something she couldn't have prevented. The McCalligs feel the hospital's apology should have been offered earlier to avoid such personal suffering.

"I still wish I could get that hour and a half back," Jean said. "That I'd known more at the time. I look back even at myself and think 'what if I'd made more of a fuss? Was there something more I could have done?' I don't think anyone set out that day with the intention of letting me down, but it's hugely traumatic. I lost a lot in those weeks after giving birth.

"We've been dealt some blows."

The former bank worker has dealt with her own health issues but those "are not the priority" in all of this. It's clear her two sons' welfare takes precedence.

"A couple of years before Eoin was born I had breast cancer and then, this summer, I had breast cancer again, so it's one thing after another. I'd no time to recover from one thing to the next and with children, disabled or not, you don't really have time to feel sorry for yourself, or say 'I'm going to bed for the next three months'. You have to get on with it - for the sake of the children above all.

"But after my mastectomy, I couldn't lift Eoin, I had to have someone with me all the time this summer. The frustration and not being able to be physically as close to Eoin was hard.

"I got on with it, pushed through it, you don't have time to dwell. The main thing was about survival and doing whatever it took.

"But it does make you more fearful about your life expectancy because the children are depending on me, especially Eoin.

"With Daniel, you want to get him to an age he can look after himself, but with Eoin, it's terrible to think you might not be here for as long as you can.

"And we had to move while this was all going on too. Coincidentally and unfortunately, this happened at the same time I got my diagnosis. I was trying to recover from a major operation and go through a huge legal case.

"Eoin is one of those people, his whole face smiles, it's his mouth, it's his eyes, it's a really beaming smile. In some ways, it makes it tougher though."

Anthony said: "The only thing I ever wanted was to be a good dad. I always loved children. Kids are so innocent, honest, there's no badness in them."

But his face drops as he recalls "the darkest day of my life". Eoin was several days old when he and Jean were told the news of their son's brain injury.

"We were still hopeful," he said. "They were trying to reassure us. They told us Eoin probably wouldn't walk or talk and I remember looking at my baby son in an incubator. I said to him in tears, 'You're going to have a long, hard life ahead of you'."

Anthony said the settlement would now ensure "when we one day die, Eoin won't have to go into institutional care". "He'll get the best help there is, have the best chance in life to be happy and we hope one day for a cure and we'll be in the best place to afford that now."

The family thanked Niall Mor National School in Killybegs, where Eoin attends mainstream and special needs classes, for its support, and headteacher Michael McGuinness. The couple also paid tribute to the work of the Jack and Jill Foundation.

Irish Independent

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