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‘Getting cancer treatment at home has made life so much easier for my little boy’

An outreach nursing service in Cork has been a lifeline for Clare Byrne and her family. The mum-of-two is now urging the public to get behind this week’s ‘Mercy Heroes’ fundraiser

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Cormac Byrne and his mum Clare

Cormac Byrne and his mum Clare

Cormac is now nearly at the end of his treatment

Cormac is now nearly at the end of his treatment

Cormac and his mum Clare, brother Donnacha and father Colin

Cormac and his mum Clare, brother Donnacha and father Colin

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Cormac Byrne and his mum Clare

Every parent knows how stressful it can be when their child is unwell. But there are many families around the country with seriously ill children and, for them, trying to deal with the logistics involved with juggling work, family life and hospital appointments while also worrying about the health of their child, can be utterly overwhelming.

This is why the Paediatric Oncology Outreach Nursing Service (POONS) at Mercy Hospital in Cork is such a lifeline to so many people. It is the only service of its kind in Ireland and allows children with cancer to receive vital treatment in the comfort of their own home, which helps to cut back on hospital visits and provides much-needed support to families during a very difficult time.

Last year, 45 families used POONS, 726 home visits were carried out and POONS nurses travelled 34,826km to provide the service, which is funded by the Mercy Hospital Foundation and requires €30,000 each year to keep going.

This Friday, October 22, the public are being asked to support Mercy Heroes, helping to raise funds for the Mercy Kids & Teens Appeal to support the youngest patients at the hospital.

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Cormac is now nearly at the end of his treatment

Cormac is now nearly at the end of his treatment

Cormac is now nearly at the end of his treatment

Clare Byrne knows only too well the value of the service as her eldest son, Cormac, has been looked after by the POONS team for the past three years, having been diagnosed with leukaemia as a toddler.

“When Cormac was just two-and-a-half, he had bad flu which he didn’t seem to be recovering from and also a rash, which we initially put down to a reaction to new washing powder,” she says. “It was on his torso and also went up his neck and looked like tiny bruises. I took him to the doctor, who said she thought it might be down to a blood condition which is on my husband’s side of the family, and we were told to come back the next day to get a sample taken.

“I thought that was that and after the bloods were done, I took him to a play centre, and he was running around like the rest of the children without a bother on him. But that night when I was putting him to bed, I got a call from the doctor who said we needed to get him to Mercy Hospital straight away. I didn’t really know what to think but called my brother to look after our other son, Donnacha, who was only five weeks old at the time, and myself and Colin headed off to the hospital.”

Cormac was admitted into the children’s ward and Clare stayed the night with him before hearing the devastating news the following morning that her child had cancer.

“I remember going up in the lift to the children’s ward and seeing a sign for oncology and haematology and thinking that it had nothing to do with us,” she says. “But he was admitted and then next morning Dr Clodagh Ryan came in with the diagnosis. I will never forget Thursday, February 21 in 2019 as our whole world collapsed.

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“We just couldn’t believe it. She was talking for a while, but I couldn’t take any of it in apart from hearing her say that the process would take three-and-a-half years and I wondered how it was possible that he was running around a play centre the day before.”

Cormac was transferred to Crumlin Children’s Hospital in Dublin where he stayed for two weeks and began his chemotherapy and the treatment programme which he is currently just months away from completing.

Once discharged, he was sent home to Cork and the mother-of-two says this was the most terrifying part as they would be in their own home for the first time since his diagnosis. But thanks to the POONS team, the transition was made much easier.

“Right from the start, they were brilliant,” she says. “We have two nurses, Olga and Peg, who come out to us, and they have made everything so much easier. Cormac has the Freddy [Hickman Line] inserted so his dressings need to be changed every week and he also needs to have blood taken to determine the level of chemo which is needed.

“Some days we would have needed to go into the hospital, and this is when you really learn how invaluable they are as it is so difficult to find parking in the city centre and get to the children’s ward with two little boys in tow. There is also the issue of parking, which adds up over time — so now there are many times when I do Cormac’s bloods myself and one of the nurses will come and collect it and take it to the hospital for me.

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Cormac and his mum Clare, brother Donnacha and father Colin

Cormac and his mum Clare, brother Donnacha and father Colin

Cormac and his mum Clare, brother Donnacha and father Colin

“But depending on what stage he is at in his treatment, there could be days when they are here every day and particularly during Covid, we really learned what a lifeline POONS is — in fact, when we go up to Crumlin, the other parents always tell us how fortunate we are to have the service as I don’t believe there is anything else like it in the country.”

Three years on from his diagnosis, Cormac is almost at the end of his treatment, which, his mother says, was made so much easier by all of the help and support they received.

“Cormac is doing really well at the moment,” she says. “He goes into the Mercy for treatment every four weeks, up to Crumlin every 12 weeks and I give him chemo at home every night. Dr Ryan said we should try and keep life as normal as possible for him, so that is what we are doing. He started school this year and is really loving it — he’s like a new child, wanting to be running around outside all the time — it has been the making of him.

“He coped so well with it all and probably because he started so young and didn’t know any different, he just gets on with things — some days he could be in having lumbar puncture done in the morning and a few hours later, would be flying around the house full of energy — kids are just amazing.

“The POONS team have really helped us to get through this and I hope that by me telling our story, people will donate a little to help keep the nurses on the road as somewhere along the line, someone else is going to need them and their presence really does make all the difference.”

Paschal McCarthy, CEO of the Mercy University Hospital Foundation, agrees and says support for campaigns like Mercy Heroes can make such a difference in people’s lives.

“For the past eight years, The Mercy University Hospital Foundation has proudly provided funding for POONS,” he says. “We can see, each year, the impact this service has on families and Covid-19 has placed an even greater demand on the service as these patients are amongst the most vulnerable in our community. This year, anyone can become a ‘Mercy Hero’ and any donation, big or small, will help make a huge difference.”

POONS is funded entirely by the Mercy Hospital Foundation and requires €30,000 each year to keep it running, and the Mercy Heroes fundraising efforts on Friday, October 22 will help fund this. If you want to make a donation on Mercy Heroes Day, visit mercyhospitalfoundation.ie or join forces with friends, family or colleagues to host a virtual or in-person coffee morning. And to set up your own ‘Mercy Heroes’ fundraising page, visit justgiving.com/campaign/MercyHeroes21



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