Harleigh Nolan was due to start playschool this autumn, due to attend St Clement’s where, like any normal three-year-old, she would have formed friendships and bonds which lasted all the way through to secondary school. But three weeks into the new term, Harleigh remains at home with her parents, unable to spend even one day with her new classmates.
One of the youngest victims of the contaminated water in Gorey, Harleigh contracted e-coli and has still not returned to full health a month after first displaying symptoms of illness.
“Personally, I don’t drink the tap water, I don’t trust it, but she would drink that water a lot,” says dad Gary as he recounts the events leading up to his daughter’s illness.
“Last month, she started feeling sick, she stopped eating. We brought her to the doctor and he said it was probably a gastro bug that was ‘going around’.” With no knowledge of any issues with the water supply, Harleigh’s GP instructed Gary, and mam Alicia, to ensure their daughter drank plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. Unsurprisingly, Harleigh’s condition worsened.
“She had very bad diarrhoea, when she went to the toilet it was just like water coming out of her, and she was constantly retching with nothing coming up,” says Gary. “Every time she coughed or sneezed she went to the toilet on herself. She couldn’t eat, she would just lay on the sofa with cramps in her stomach; she would have been up all night with the sickness, not able to sleep.”
Eventually their GP suggested sending a stool sample away, but only after Gary and Alicia had heard there was an issue with the water.
“She had been sick for almost two weeks before that,” says Gary. “The stool sample came back and showed she had e-coli.”
Although Harleigh’s condition has improved somewhat, Gary says she is still not eating and is far removed from the bubbly little girl they know and love.
“She has lost weight because of it, there’s no colour in her face, her eyes are all black; it’s the tiredness as much as anything, she’s just not herself. She was meant to start her first week in creche last month but hasn’t been able to go in. She’s missed three weeks so far, hasn’t been in at all.
“In fairness, St Clement’s have been great, but she thinks she’s not going because she’s been bold, that they’re not leaving her in – she doesn’t understand why she can’t go. The HSE have said we have to wait until the e-coli leaves her system, that they can’t treat her until the e-coli comes out.”
To date, the family have sent six stool samples for testing and each one has returned with traces of the bacteria, and Gary and Alicia still don’t know if there will be any long-term effects as a result of their daughter’s illness.
“The hospital are hopeful there won’t be any long-term effects, but they said there’s a risk of Hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) which affects the kidneys with this strain (VTEC) of e-coli.”
Understandably angry, Gary says an apology from those found to be culpable will not suffice.
“I don’t think an apology is enough in this instance, someone has to answer for what’s happened – sorry doesn’t cover it,” he says.
“Although it’s a different set of circumstances, this is like the cervical scandal in my opinion. The worst part was the worry we went through before we knew it was the water, that’s the big one for me. She had a high temperature, was vomiting, we thought she had Covid. Never again will I or any of my family drink the water here, I don’t think people will ever trust WCC again.”