Tuesday 26 March 2019

WATCH: Moment 12-week old baby with severe breathing difficulties airlifted from snowbound home

Allison Bray

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 ten-foot 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.

And when Kealan stopped breathing for almost a minute, Michelle 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 semi-detached bungalow just to get to the high street that was also buried in snow.

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

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

Picture taken on Monday shows extent of snow near Roundwood, Co Wicklow on Monday
Picture taken on Monday shows extent of snow near Roundwood, Co Wicklow on Monday
Snow this morning in Coollattin Co. Wicklow. Photo: Bill Nolan
Despite only wearing shorts James Butterworth uses cardboard to dig himself out of the Snow drifts on Harbour road, Arklow, Co Wicklow. Photograph: Garry O'Neill

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.

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But Mr Durkan, (Kildare North), reassured her that help was on its way, she said.

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

However, the closest the two Civil Defence jeeps could get to their house on the main street was about a kilometre 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 Michelle’s home.

But because it couldn’t land anywhere nearby, Michelle and Kealan [taken first in the yellow carrier seen in the attached video] had to be winched 50 feet 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 of them rallying around the family.

She said her neighbours, including  retired fireman Martin O’Brien and A&E nurse Olive Granger, were also 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 with an ambulance and taken to the Temple Street Children’s Hospital.

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

Mr Durkan, meanwhile, praised the Civil Defence and Irish Coast Guard for their responses to the emergency.

“You can’t take a risk with a baby,” said the father-of-five.

“I want to give my full compliments to the Coast Guard for their understanding. It was a really bad day. It had been snowing the whole day and it was getting worse,” he said.

He also praised the Civil Defence for their efforts to reach the family despite snowdrifts of up to 12 feet in places, he added.

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