Friday 23 March 2018

‘If this had been a life and death situation we would have had a dead girl on our hands’

Meadhbh McGivern at home in Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, yesterday
Meadhbh McGivern at home in Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, yesterday

Mark Hilliard

The father of the Leitrim girl who missed a liver transplant in London because of a delay in providing transport has said the family are looking for an explanation so that the situation will not happen again.

Joe McGivern, the father of 14-year-old Maedhbh, has said that while he is not blaming anyone, the delay had caused "feelings of frustration and anger. We're wondering why this happened. If this had been a life and death situation, our little girl wouldn't be with us now."

Mr McGivern added that the family had not received any contact from the HSE since the events of Saturday night.

He said Maedhbh remains "distraught" since being told she wouldn't make it in time, just moments before boarding a helicopter in Sligo.

At around 7.20pm last Saturday, the McGiverns, from Ballinamore, Co Leitrim, received a long-awaited phone call telling them that a suitable liver had become available.

But because of HSE difficulties in finding an aircraft and the prospect of two refuelling stops for a helicopter, they would not have made it to Kings College Hospital until about 4am -- nearly nine hours later.

The organ was eventually given to another patient.

"We have been waiting for this call from last August and to think that when we got it we couldn't get out of the bloody country," her father, Joe, told the Irish Independent.

Time is critical when a liver becomes available due to the eight to 10-hour 'cold ischemic time' -- the period in which the organ can be successfully transplanted once it has been removed from the donor.

A stand-by Air Corps helicopter -- the first response for emergency transplant cases -- was unavailable due to a spinal injury incident in Kerry.

An alternative helicopter could not be used as it would not have had the range to reach Heathrow Airport.

The Air Corp's fixed-wing G4 aircraft was made available but this was turned down by the HSE.

It is understood that had it been accepted, the G4, which was due to land at the Casement Aerodrome in Baldonnel, Dublin, at about 10.30pm, could have comfortably made it to Sligo and on to London before the 3am deadline.

Instead, HSE Ambulance Control, which organises transport in such circumstances, opted for the Coast Guard backup and secured a helicopter in Sligo. The family raced there under garda escort just after 9pm.

But when it became clear the helicopter journey would take about four hours and include refuelling stops, the transplant co-ordinator in London cancelled the operation at around 10.50pm.

"The clock was ticking and hours had passed and we knew what was happening," said Mr McGivern.

"With a live donor (on life support) you would have lots of time to get over there."

Private aircraft -- used in the event that neither the Air Corps nor the Coast Guard can assist -- were largely unavailable due to demand for Wimbledon and the royal wedding in Monaco.

"We actually started to ring our own friends to see if anyone knew anyone with a helicopter or a plane or any other way to get there," he said.

"Confusion, incompetence; I don't know what you call it. We are not pointing the blame at anyone, we are just hurt and shocked."

Mr McGivern said that the RAF would have been in a position to collect Maeadbh and bring her to London but that there had been a lack of communication with Irish authorities. The HSE declined to comment on how the arrangements were made.

Meadbh McGivern has been awaiting a liver transplant since last August and has been "a prisoner in her own home" due to related illnesses.

Irish Independent

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