Friday 18 October 2019

'It was terrifying' - Mum of 12-week-old sick baby who was airlifted from snowbound home

Michelle O'Neill holding her son, Kealen, with her partner, Richard Tyrrell, holding twin, Senan
Michelle O'Neill holding her son, Kealen, with her partner, Richard Tyrrell, holding twin, Senan

Allison Bray

The mother of a frail infant who had to be airlifted to hospital from their snowbound home at the height of Storm Emma has nothing but praise for everyone who rallied to their aid.

Michelle O’Neill (40), from Kilteel, Co Kildare, not only woke up to 10ft-high snow drifts lining the main street of the village on Friday, she became frantic with worry when her 12-week-old twin son Kealan stopped breathing that night.

The infant and his twin Senan were born six weeks prematurely, leaving them more frail than infants the same age.

When Kealan stopped breathing for almost a minute, Ms O’Neill rang 999 for an ambulance, only to be told the snowdrifts and impassable roads would make it impossible for an ambulance to reach them.

While Kealan rallied overnight, Michelle insisted he get medical attention the next day following a sleepless night.

Yet the snow drifts were so high that she and her partner, Richard Tyrrell (44), had to dig their way out of their semidetached bungalow just to get to the main street that was also buried in snow.

“I was absolutely terrified in case something happened,” she said. “I knew that nothing could get up to me.”

She rang her local TD Bernard Durkan to see if anything could be done.

Michelle O'Neill with her son, Kealen, 12 weeks old
Michelle O'Neill with her son, Kealen, 12 weeks old

Although he too was snowed in at his Co Kildare home, he was able to arrange for help by phone. “I was in an awful state,” she said.

But Mr Durkan, himself a father-of-five, reassured her that help was on its way, she said.

“He rang up in 10 minutes and said the Civil Defence would be up to me right away,” she said.

However, the closest the two Civil Defence 4x4 vehicles could get to their house on the main street was about 1km away from the village despite trying to reach them for over six hours.

Mr Durkan then enlisted the Coast Guard which dispatched a rescue helicopter to Ms O’Neill’s home.

But because it couldn’t land anywhere nearby, Ms O’Neill and Kealan had to be winched 50ft into the air.

“It was terrifying,” she said. “But when we were being lifted into the air all the neighbours were so good,” she said.

She said her neighbours, including retired fireman Martin O’Brien and A&E nurse Olive Granger, were invaluable in the help and reassurance they gave the family during their ordeal.

After the terrifying ascent into the helicopter, they flew to Dublin Airport where they were met by an ambulance and taken to the Temple Street Children’s Hospital.

After a battery of tests and being kept in for observation, Kealan was released from hospital and returned home yesterday.

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