Thursday 19 September 2019

'Praying for a miracle' - parents of toddler who suffered serious brain injury in hit-and-run reveal he is now sitting up

Fighter: Zac Higgins (2), with his dad Paul, was placed in a medically induced coma after the accident near his Cork home
Fighter: Zac Higgins (2), with his dad Paul, was placed in a medically induced coma after the accident near his Cork home

Ralph Riegel

THE heartbroken parents of a toddler who suffered a complex brain injury after being knocked down in a hit-and-run revealed he is now sitting up in hospital but is still unable to speak or walk.

It had initially been thought Zac Higgins (2) had escaped brain trauma in the incident as he played by his Cork home on March 25 while suffering multiple bruises and fractures.

The driver of a blue Mazda 6 fled the scene after knocking down the little boy off Cork's Skehard Road - with his mother initially believing her son was only a little ball lying by the roadside.

His mother Aisling Sexton has now revealed that when doctors in Dublin's Temple Street Hospital attempted to revive the little boy from the medically induced coma they realised something was wrong.

Zac Higgins is now 'smiling and laughing'
Photo: Red FM/Neil Prendeville
Zac Higgins is now 'smiling and laughing' Photo: Red FM/Neil Prendeville

Subsequent specialist tests revealed little Zac had suffered a Diffuse Axonal Injury (DAI) whereby the brain suffered impact trauma and lesions later formed.

Zac is now able to sit up in his Dublin hospital bed - but cannot speak or walk and still only has partial sight.

"He is doing well considering where he was last week," Aisling told RedFM's Neil Prendeville Show.

"He wasn't even holding his head up last week but he is sitting up in his bed this week.

"He can't speak or walk or anything like that yet.

"It is lots of rehab, really. No one knows what is going to happen in the future. Because of the nature of that injury, it is a waiting game.

"Zac will tell us what he can and cannot do. We are now hoping and praying for a miracle," Aisling said.

"But we just don't know what the future is going to hold. Zac is very young so that is in his favour. But every individual responds to a DAI differently.

"The rehab work at the moment is all sensory - trying to get him to respond.

"He still has a feeding tube but we have started giving him little yogurts, things like that.

"He is smiling, laughing - he knew his brother and sister when they came up to see him. He definitely knows people. We think that little memories are coming back.

"All we can do is hope - it is going to be a long road but it is better to have a long road than no road at all.

"They are amazing here (Temple Street). He is getting fantastic support.

"We are exhausted from travelling up and down from Cork and living out of bags.

Aisling and her partner, Paul Higgins, acknowledged the past month has been like "a nightmare that you just cannot wake up from."

"When they (surgeons) tried to take him out of the coma, they couldn't," she explained.

"It didn't work out and they were not happy with him. They did an MRI scan which showed up that he had a DAI brain injury.

"Basically, the impact causes lesions on the brain. Nobody knows how he will recover from it. It is up to the individual - every case is different.

"I would hope that because he is so young he had a chance. He is feisty so please God he will get there. But we just don't know.

"It is a waiting game and it will be a lot of rehabilitation. No matter what, it will be a very long road.

"At the moment, he cannot move. He will have issues and he will need rehab but please God he will be able to move, get up and speak.

"But we just don't know if he will be able to do anything anymore."

Aisling admitted the 24 hours after doctors attempted to revive Zac from the coma was like torture.

"We are praying for a miracle now every day, praying to Holy God and to Padre Pio."

Zac remains in a serious but stable condition in Temple Street Children's Hospital after suffering head and chest injuries in the hit and run incident off Cork's Skehard Road on March 25.

Gardaí arrested a young man in connection with the incident but later released him without charge.

A file will now be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

Paul and Aisling said they have been "totally overwhelmed" by messages of support, gifts and offers of special excursions for Zac once he recovers.

A GoFundMe campaign was launched for Zac with the aim of raising €50,000 to help the family with their medical, travel and rehabilitation costs.

Little Zac was left with multiple critical injuries when he was struck by Mazda saloon shortly before 4pm as he played near his Castle Meadows home.

The car, which had four occupants, fled the scene and left the toddler semi-conscious on the roadway.

Zac was initially rushed to Cork University Hospital (CUH) before being transferred by ambulance to Temple Street Children's Hospital in Dublin for specialist care.

His horrified mother initially thought her injured son was just "a little ball lying on the road."

Zac was hailed by his father, Paul, as "a little warrior."

The furious father also slated as "heartless b***ards" the occupants of the car that left his son lying critically injured in the roadway.

The GoFundMe campaign was launched with the support of local friends and family including Zac's uncle, Alan, family friends Councillor Chris O'Leary and Sean Fitzgerald as well as Ringmahon Rangers chairman Vincent Noonan.

Paul and Aisling have two other children, Max (7) and Belle (4).

People wishing to support Zac can donate at or via a special account at St Michael's Credit Union IBAN - IE8MICI99222419052804 BIC - MICIIE21.

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