Aviva apology after text sent to parents of Battens children

Saoirse Heffernan with her parents Tony and Mary and her brother Liam

By Majella O'Sullivan

A HEALTH insurance company has apologised unreservedly to the parents of two children for an insensitive marketing text sent to them offering a deal on insurance for their kids after they had passed away.

Tony and Mary Heffernan, who set up the Saoirse Foundation charity in memory of their five-year-old daughter Saoirse, informed their insurance provider Aviva of both of their children's deaths.

The couple's son Liam (5) passed away in May from the rare, genetic disorder Battens Disease that also claimed the life of his sister.

But a text received from Aviva yesterday said: "Hi Tony. Before you renew, talk to Aviva about our fantastic kids offer, only €169 for children aged 5 to 7."

Mr Heffernan posted the offending text on social media saying he had advised the insurer "ages ago" that both Saoirse and Liam had died at the age of five. When the insensitivity of the message was brought to its attention, Aviva immediately apologised to the Heffernans and its chief executive rang Mr Heffernan to apologise for the message they received.

A spokesperson for Aviva said: "We apologised to Tony unreservedly for the insensitivity of the message and explained how it happened.

"It was an automated message that's sent out coming up to renewal based on the information we had when the policy was taken out, when Liam was still alive. Tony did tell us Liam had died in May but that information wasn't triggered at all."

The spokesperson added that measures were now being taken and its system being changed to make sure something like this never happened again.

"It was a weakness and a flaw in our system obviously. We apologised personally, it was very insensitive and it won't happen again," the spokesperson added.

Mr Heffernan has accepted the apology and says at least now no other bereaved family will receive a message like that.

"It's not the kind of thing you want to see first thing in the morning and it was a kick in the stomach when I saw it first as it brings it all back but, to be fair, they've apologised profusely and the CEO rang me," Mr Heffernan said.

The Heffernans are behind plans to develop 'Liam's Lodge', the country's first respite centre for children with rare diseases and their families in Blennerville near Tralee, Co Kerry.

The couple is also behind Bumbleance, the first interactive, child-friendly ambulance, and fundraise constantly for both projects.