'I lost my beautiful girls within two years of each other -- but I know they're smiling today'
As Jane McKenna addresses President McAleese and guests at the launch of LauraLynn House today, she admits she is full of mixed emotions. The hospice is named in memory of her daughters, Laura and Lynn, who died within two years of each other.
In August 1999, as four-year-old Laura was undergoing her third operation to repair a hole in her heart, 13-year-old Lynn looked so drawn, Jane and her husband Brendan took her to casualty to have her checked out. Hours later, doctors broke the news that rocked the foundations of their world -- Lynn had leukaemia.
Reeling from this blow, the couple spent a heartbreaking night in intensive care, watching their youngest daughter hooked up to life support machines while trying to absorb the diagnosis of their only other child. At 9am, doctors pronounced Laura brain dead.
"We waited 'til the afternoon to turn off the machine," says Jane. "The following days went by in a haze. I was so caught up with Lynn I remember very little about Laura's funeral."
As Lynn embarked on chemotherapy and other treatments over the next two years, her mother says, "She taught us how to live and how to die.
"Lynn died peacefully at home, just as she wanted. Some children don't have that option and that's why it is so important that we finally have a children's hospice in this country."
Jane and Brendan set up the LauraLynn Children's Hospice Foundation in 2003, and a few years later joined forces with the Children's Sunshine Home who were running a similar project. Now their shared vision has been realised with the official launch of Ireland's first children's hospice.
Financed entirely through charity fundraising, LauraLynn House is a purpose-built facility with eight ensuite bedrooms, four family suites, a quiet room, meeting room, multi-sensory playroom, rooms equipped for art, music therapy, reflexology, massage and computers, a bathroom with a wow factor as well as a specially designed playground and gardens.
Philomena Dunne, Chief Executive Officer of Children's Sunshine Home, is delighted to see the hospice finally open its doors.
"LauraLynn House is a beautiful, bright facility which will be able to support over 300 families throughout Ireland each year," she says. "This includes transitional care for families bringing home sick children from hospital and learning how to handle their feeding, oxygen and other needs, respite care for families needing to relax, recharge their batteries and have fun with their children and, when required, end-of-life care in a home-from-home atmosphere, not a sterile hospital environment. Expert care is on hand to help the children make the most of each day. "
And for those children whose lives are so sadly cut short, the hospice has a 'Butterfly Suite' providing a resting place for the child and family after the child has passed away.
"Nothing can ease the pain of losing a child, but the right care can at least give quality to the child's life, however short," says Jane McKenna.
"LauraLynn House is not only about providing the best support and surroundings for families when the end comes, it's very much about life. It gives parents a much-needed break and supports healthy siblings who are left out when a sick child needs 24-hour care.
"LauraLynn House is about putting life into a child's day, not days into a child's life.
"On August 31 this year a friend said to me, 'It's hard to believe it's 12 years since Laura got her wings.' I thought it was a lovely way of putting it -- and wherever Laura and Lynn are flying about right now, I know that today they will have a smile on their faces."