Ballinskellig's JC first to use child air ambulance to Kerry

'BUMBLEair' a lifeline for little JC, who had tracheotomy at just nine days old

Stephen Fernane

It's been a tough start in life for two-year-old JC Quinlan from Ballinskelligs, who has needed a tracheotomy to help him breathe since he was nine-days-old. But JC was flying high this week as he became the first Kerry child to fly with BUMBLEair from Dublin to Kerry Airport.

JC, who was joined on the 40-minute flight by his dad Paudie, was picked up from Temple Street Children's Hospital last Thursday and driven to Western Airport, before catching the flight to Kerry, where a BUMBLEance collected him from the runway to complete the remainder of his journey to Ballinskelligs.

BUMBLEair is funded by the Saoirse Foundation, which is a division of the BUMBLEance national children's ambulance service. JC has needed 24-hour care since he was born, and once the tube was removed, he was given the all-clear to take the flight home. His mom, Susan, explained how the past two years have taken their toll on JC, as travelling to Dublin means a seven- or eight-hour road trip.

"He was very relaxed throughout, and I love the picture of him looking out the window during the flight. It was a smooth and fast journey for him," Susan said. Initially, JC's parents took him by car to Dublin, in what was a journey fraught with difficulties.

Once the family discovered BUMBLEance, JC's trips over the past 18 months to see specialists were less stressful. The Quinlans have also been 'frequent flyers' with BUMBLEance since 2016.

"The trip to Dublin by car was just a nightmare. We had to stop often, as JC would get sick, and to give him a break. It was a nurse in Temple Street who first mentioned BUMBLEance to us, and it's changed our lives. It's a wonderful service. Appointments are now more frequent, but it's not the traumatic experience we used to know."

Susan added it's important to make other parents aware of the service, as she believes they may not be aware of it. JC still has medical issues, but his latest treatment means needing a nurse 24/7 could soon be a thing of the past. Susan also praised the personnel who run the BUMBLEance service.

"They couldn't do enough for us, and it's incredible what they do. I want to thank every individual involved in BUMBLEance, as without them we couldn't have managed going to Dublin over the last two years.

The BUMBLEance takes the angst and worry out of the trip. Tony [Heffernan] even phoned the following day to see how JC was. He's a really lovely man and goes out of his way to help sick children and their families. They're a life-changer, to be quite honest."

Lastly, Tony Heffernan, CEO and founder of the Saoirse Foundation, said they were thrilled to have JC on board the first flight into Kerry. The charity provides all its transports for sick children free of charge and relies on the generosity of the public to support its services.

"It's great to see local children from our county using our free services and benefit from the reduced travel time between hospital and home," Tony added.

The aircraft, which was piloted by BUMBLEair's Ryan Hanrahan, was the first plane the charity has used since it started BUMBLEair Helicopter transfers in July, 2017. BUMBLEance has two vehicles, based in Kerry and Cork, that service the Southern region.

The Saoirse Foundation is named after the daughter of Mary and Tony Heffernan. Saoirse died in January 2011 from Battens disease. Their son, Liam, died of the same disease in 2014.