Friday 20 September 2019

'The lady went very quiet and said I'm afraid I've concerns for your baby' - Mum tells of her little boy's extraordinary tale of survival

Clidhna and Terry with their children Donagh and Caoila, and Tadhg (centre).
Clidhna and Terry with their children Donagh and Caoila, and Tadhg (centre).
Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

“We went in for the 21-week anomaly scan and basically we were trying to decide whether or not to find out if we were having a boy or a girl. That was all we were worried about, but I remember the lady went very quiet and she turned around and said ‘I’m afraid I’ve concerns for your baby’.”

Clidhna and Terry McElroy from Wicklow were sent for an amniocentesis to find out what the issue was with their cherished baby whom they were so looking forward to meeting. The pair were devastated to learn that he had fluid built-up around his stomach and legs. Doctors explained to the couple that Clidhna would more than likely miscarry.

“We were told basically to prepare for him not making it to the end of the pregnancy. 

“We always tried to ask them what it was but they kept saying it could be one of thousands of things. Basically they said that the fluid was putting pressure on his lungs and his heart, and that they’d stop working.”

“It was really, really tough... We decided that whatever short time we had with him, we just wanted to make it as pleasant as possible. I remember I’d be walking in Bray and looking up at Bray Head and I remember saying to him, ‘if you make it little man, I’ll will show you Bray Head and or I’ll show you this lovely food. I just wanted him to be as comfortable as possible.”

Clidhna was advised to carry her hospital file everywhere in case she started to miscarry. As she prepared for a caesarean section, she was advised to speak to a counsellor.

“The counsellor was explaining to me what would happen - that he’d be brought down to the morgue downstairs and that I was to bring one babygro because he would only get to wear that.”

“I was absolutely devastated, and I went in for the caesarean terrified. When he cried, we didn’t understand what was happening. I remember I saw his little face with one eye visible through the blankets, and his eye caught mine, and then he was whisked off to ICU.”

“I remember I told my mam, ‘I just can’t believe I’m not going to see my baby’s eyes open. She held me and said ‘I know, it’s really awful’. But when he opened his eyes and looked at me, I thought ‘no matter what, I feel like I’ve seen him, and I saw a tiny little piece of his personality’.

Tadhg was born at full term and after tests, it emerged that he needed kidney dialysis.

Clidhna explained: “He had a littany of problems. Within a day or two, they realised it was the kidneys.” 

From the age of six months to two and a half years, Tadhg underwent dialysis three mornings a week at Temple Street Hospital. 

“We knew our doctors and our nurses better than we knew our friends. They were so kind, so gentle. In the beginning obviously, we were devastated all the time. For dialysis we’d leave the house at 7.30am and we’d get back at 12.30pm. It was really tough going, there was never any let up, we religiously had to go three days a week. And then he was sick a lot as well, so Tadhg would be in hospital for a week out of every month.”

Tadhg's luck began to turn when he became a candidate for kidney donation and tests revealed that Clidhna was a match.

"I was a match, it was the most incredible news I’ve ever heard in my life. The transplant happened when he was two and a half. He was the smallest child to get a transplant.”

“He has a condition called prune belly so his tummy muscles are very lax and he doesn’t have many on one side so that meant that they could fit my big kidney into his body, which was a total coincidence.”

“Before the operations, he went to Temple Street and I went to Beaumont. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done leaving him that night. Luckily he was sleeping. But every time I went to leave, myself and my husband burst out crying.” 

“I went to Beaumont and went down to theatre and the surgeon came in and introduced himself and touched my foot and told me it would all be OK. They put me under and it was a success.”

After the kidney surgery, Tadgh’s health improved significantly, and he’s now thriving.

"Tadhg would vomit 30 times a day and all night; he never ate, only drank tiny bits, and he was always tube fed. He started walking before he was two.”

“When we had his transplant, I remember one of the things he said when he came home was ‘my tummy feels funny, I hungry’. And he'd never said that before.”

“Ever since then, he got stronger and started eating more. He had to drink a litre and a half every day and that was hard making sure he was getting that because he’d never drank that amount before.”

Now Tadhg is seven years old and leads a full life, swimming and playing tennis, and minding his twin siblings Caoila and Donagh.

“We pinch ourselves all the time - even if he sits down and says ‘that dinner is delicious’. He has a voracious appetite and he says: ‘Mam, you have to feed me a lot’. He’s proud of it almost. It’s the trade off when your child has been so sick, you get it back in spades when they’re getting better; the tiniest little milestone can give you a thrill. We still almost high five when he drinks water.”

Clidhna encourages people to carry donor cards to help save someone’s life.

“As well as carrying the donor card, you also need to talk to your family and let them know your wishes.”

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