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Treatment was 'hell' but Donal wanted to help sick children

HE WILL forever be remembered for his contribution to suicide prevention, but Donal Walsh was also a champion for sick children.

Donal (16), who passed away at home on Sunday night, raised more than €50,000 to improve facilities at Crumlin Children's Hospital – even though he was undergoing gruelling treatment there.

Donal first gave an interview to the Irish Independent last June, on the eve of his 16th birthday, when he was being treated for lung cancer in Dublin.

He had to sit his Junior Cert at home but his academic results were the least of his worries.

Fundraising

The following day, on his birthday, he was due to find out if the chemotherapy he had had endured over the past four months had worked.

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Donal Walsh

Donal Walsh

Donal Walsh pictured in 2009

Donal Walsh pictured in 2009

Finbar, Donal & Elma Walsh before their appearance on the Saturday Night Show this month

Finbar, Donal & Elma Walsh before their appearance on the Saturday Night Show this month

Donal Walsh

Donal Walsh

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Donal Walsh

"The exams are not really bothering me, it's more trying to get the treatment over with," he said.

Donal had undergone surgery the previous February to remove the lower lobe of one of his lungs after the tumour was discovered. He had been undergoing treatment since then.

In a school newsletter he described these trips to hospital as being like a trip to "hell" but he resolved to do what he could to make things better at St John's Oncology Unit.

"They helped me out by saving my life so I'm trying to help them out as well," he said last June.

At the time, his efforts had already raised over €10,000 for the hospital. He hoped that plans to build a new oncology ward with en-suite bedrooms for teenagers would soon become a reality. "There's only one toilet for every 18 beds and there's absolutely no privacy. I think there's no reason why the Government can't do something about it," he said.

Over the last few months of his life Donal devoted his energy to suicide prevention – and according to the junior minister with responsibility for mental health, Kathleen Lynch, had done more in his short life than any politician had ever achieved in this regard.

A recording of Donal's message will be available on the National Office for Suicide Prevention's website and a DVD will also be circulated to second-level schools.

Ms Lynch said: "Young people listen to their peers and Donal was such a mature voice in that whole area, and I think that is what struck people about him.

"When he said 'when times are difficult, reach out, there is help there' – his saying that had far more of an impact than any politician, any radio station and any of those things."

Ms Lynch also paid tribute to Donal's parents Elma and Fionnbar, saying it was clear his "generosity of spirit" had come from them.

Donal was diagnosed with a tumour in his femur when he was 12 which dashed his hopes of every becoming a professional rugby player and playing for his beloved Munster.

In October he was told his cancer was terminal and advised to celebrate an early Christmas.

He delighted his 14,000 followers on Twitter this month when he tweeted: "They told me have an early Christmas, but I'm after making it from October to the summer."

His fundraising efforts for Crumlin raised in excess of €50,000 but that figure is still rising. On May 25 Tralee Boxing Club is holding a boxing tournament at the Brandon Hotel in his memory, with all funds going towards the hospital.

Irish Independent