Sunday 15 December 2019

Irish mother who lost three babies to extremely rare disease: 'The years have gone but to us it's as fresh as if it was yesterday'

Catherine Flanagan and her partner John
Credit: Catherine Flanagan
Catherine Flanagan and her partner John Credit: Catherine Flanagan
Catherine's book which she wrote to help parents in a similar position Credit: Catherine Flanagan

Sarah-Jane Murphy

A mother whose three infant children died from the same rare disease has said that she continues to find Christmas and birthdays "exceptionally difficult".

Catherine Flanagan (50), from Ballybofey in Co. Donegal, lost her three babies to Wegener's Granulomatosis (WG), a medical condition so uncommon that no support group for those affected by it exists in Ireland.

The condition causes inflammation of blood vessels in the nose, sinuses, throat and lungs.

"For me the pain never goes away, it prompted me to write a book as I wanted to remember them and to address issues that are faced by others.

"I would advise any parents that lose a baby to never forget them and to remember that they are not alone," she told

Catherine was only 21, and living in London, when her first child, Siobhan, was born in 1986.

Siobhan was a healthy baby who enjoyed her feeds, until something seemed amiss to her adoring mother.

"That's how I first started to know something was wrong. After her Christening she wouldn't take food," Catherine said when she first told her story to the Donegal Democrat.

Catherine brought her baby daughter to see a doctor and was told that the child was healthy and she was just a nervous, first-time mother.

"One morning I woke up and Siobhan was coughing up blood. She turned blue and we brought her by ambulance to Hammersmith hospital," she said.

It took six months for doctors to diagnose Siobhan with WG.

Little Siobhan's case was the only one that her doctors were aware of at the time, and therefore there was no established treatment plan.

The infant couldn't eat or drink and remained in hospital around the clock.

Sadly she died at just 15 months.

Catherine then gave birth to a second baby girl, called Sinéad, in August 1990.

Sinéad was born two months premature via cesarean, and weighed just over 2lbs.

Before long she was coughing up blood and was diagnosed with WG.

"I couldn't believe it was happening again," Catherine said.

Baby Sinéad died in her mothers arms aged just two months.

In 1994, Catherine gave birth to a son, John Patrick, who was also born prematurely.

Doctors immediately said it was likely that he would have WG.

The baby only lived for one day.

"The years have gone but to us it's as fresh as if it was yesterday.

Catherine Flanagan's book is entitled "A Brief Life of my Babies".

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