Life Health & Wellbeing

Friday 13 December 2019

Doctor's Orders: Last chance to save little Gavin

Having a child sick with cancer has to be every parent's worst nightmare

Gavin Glynn and his dad John
Gavin Glynn and his dad John
Dr Ciara Kelly

Dr Ciara Kelly

Recently, I've been thinking a lot about a family I know from my town but they could just as easily be from your town, indeed they could just as easily be your family. The Glynns and their son Gavin are currently in Texas, where Gavin is undergoing radical treatment for a rare form of cancer - Rhabdomyoscarcoma - that he developed when he was just 17 months old. This cancer affects his little muscles. The family is in Texas because there's no further treatment available for him in Ireland, and his parents have been told that this major surgery and intense chemotherapy is his last chance for survival.

And it's heart-breaking, because Gavin is only four years old and is due to start junior infants in September with my own son - so it's not a big mental leap to imagine what they're going through.

The Glynns aren't the only family going through something like this. About 150 children in Ireland are diagnosed with cancer every year. And although most have about an 80 pc five-year survival rate - it's got to be every parent's worst nightmare.

My own family had some experience of this when I was growing up. One of my siblings had leukaemia as a child and was critically ill. Indeed at one point, my parents were told there was no hope. (I'm glad to say that sibling is now fabulously middle-aged without a bother on them so happily sometimes doctors get that wrong.) But those years - of hospital visits, hushed conversations, hidden tears, absent parents and being minded by whoever could be rustled up - shaped my childhood. Because it's not just the child that receives the diagnosis, it's the whole family. And there's nothing worse - nothing designed to make a family feel more helpless and terrified, than having a really sick child.

I thought about this again when I met Kevin Shorthall recently. His nine-year-old daughter Louise is currently undergoing treatment for leukaemia in Crumlin, 
and his battle for her medical card prompted him to start, a campaign to push for automatic medical cards for all children with serious illnesses. Because if there's one thing you don't need when your child is critically ill, it's to worry about whether or not you can afford treatment. I think that's what really caused the medical card issue to blow up in the Government's face: no one could accept that the economic crisis and balancing the books was more important than getting care to the people - especially to the children - who really needed it.

Gavin's family and friends also started a campaign. There's no way they could possibly afford the treatment in the States, and no funding was available. They needed a minimum of €350,000 to pay for his operation. And amazing amounts of community spirit both local and national has generated thousands; from local schoolchildren making and selling loom bands in his favourite Superman colours, to his Montessori teacher shaving all her hair off - so that she and Gavin now have matching heads. But they could use more. They will be out there for about eight weeks, spending day and night at the hospital. There's a website where you can donate something - no matter how small, to help them. Or you can text Gavin to 50300 to donate €4 to his family. Less than the price of a pint but it could make a huge difference.

In the meantime, my heart goes out to them - over in Houston, away from their other two children, living through such a harrowing ordeal. This is their last hope of saving Gavin - who's been such an amazingly brave kid. God speed little man. The whole country is behind you.

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