CONFUSION over a two-minute 999 emergency call is at the centre of the controversy over why an available HSE ambulance wasn't dispatched to help a dying toddler.
Vakaris Martinaitis, who would have celebrated his second birthday yesterday, had to be driven at high speed by former All-Ireland hurling star Kevin Hennessy almost 18km in his own Citroen car to Cork University Hospital (CUH) with a garda escort.
Vakaris – whose parents Vidas and Aukse are both Lithuanian nationals – died 48 hours later from brain injuries sustained when he fell out of an upstairs window of the family home at The Paddocks, Castleredmond, outside Midleton.
Vidas and Aukse told the Sunday Independent they had been left "devastated" by last Monday's freak accident.
Four children have now benefited from transplants as a result of the heartbroken couple deciding to donate their son's organs.
Both wept as they spoke of their heartbreak at the loss of "a beautiful and special little boy who brought nothing but happiness into our lives".
Mr Hennessy, a former Midleton and Cork hurling star, is adamant he spoke to a Health Service Executive (HSE) ambulance dispatcher and was told no ambulance was available in the area to respond.
"I was told that there was no ambulance available in the area and was advised to get the child to a doctor as soon as possible," he said.
"I couldn't believe it, to be honest. I've done first-aid training myself and I thought that anyone with possible head or spinal injuries shouldn't be moved unless it was by a paramedic."
Having driven Vidas and his critically injured son to the local SouthDoc GP cover clinic, Mr Hennessy was then advised to rush the child 18km to CUH. He agreed to do so as Vidas had no transport as his wife had taken the family car to work.
"The gardai were absolutely brilliant. They talked me through where they would meet my car and then stopped traffic at all the junctions and roundabouts as I drove to CUH," he told the Sunday Independent.
Health Minister Dr James Reilly immediately ordered a probe into why an ambulance wasn't dispatched and the HSE and National Ambulance Service launched a preliminary probe.
"The preliminary examination of the facts surrounding this tragic incident has confirmed that an emergency ambulance was immediately available to respond to the call," a HSE spokesperson said.
A review has been set up to examine how the 999 call was managed with the review team to include experts in pre-hospital emergency care and primary care from both Ireland and the UK.
Central to the probe will be logs and recordings of the 999 call and precisely what the ambulance dispatchers were told about how Vakaris's injuries were sustained.
Midleton does not have an ambulance of its own but is covered by ambulances from either Cork city or Youghal.
It does have a first-responder vehicle but this was not dispatched to Castleredmond last Monday. Vidas and Aukse will now bid farewell to their "beautiful boy" in a funeral service tomorrow.
Tragically, he should have celebrated his second birthday yesterday. "Vakaris was a beautiful little boy. We have great thanks for our neighbours and the people that have helped us. Everyone has been very kind to us," Aukse said.
The mother of two paid an emotional tribute to Mr Hennessy for all he had tried to do for her son.
"He was very kind. We will never forget what he did for Vakaris. This has all been very hard for us."
The couple have an older child, Agneta, 8, who is due to make her First Holy Communion next week.
They had to break the news to her last night that her brother was dead.
Vidas wept as he recalled how his son fell from the first-floor window as his wife was at work and he was working in the family home.
"It all happened so fast . . . and now he is dead," he sobbed.
"I could not save my son. But his organs were donated so at least four other children now have the chance of life thanks to him.
"But I will never get the chance to play football with him or to take him fishing. He was a beautiful little boy. When he woke up in the morning he gave me a hug. He had a good heart and would do anything I asked him."