RMH ‘kept my family together’
Helen O’Callaghan learns about Ronald McDonald House
ROSIE Conneely knows the Ronald McDonald House (RMH) is what kept her family together for 10 tough months following her daughter’s bone marrow transplant.
Aideen, now 12, was just four when diagnosed with Myelodysplastic syndrome – pre-leukaemia. Diagnosis followed months of troubling symptoms. “She was extremely tired. She’d be jumping on the trampoline and have to come off. At her brother’s Communion the previous May, the house was full of cousins and Aideen went off to bed. We had to wake her up,” says the Co Galway-based mum of three.
Other symptoms included poor colour and poor eating, but it took time for tests to reveal the cause of the ill-health. In September 2010, Aideen was diagnosed at Crumlin Hospital. “Her only option was a bone marrow transplant. Her siblings weren’t a match,” says Rosie, also mum to Darragh, 17, and Rachael, 15.
Finally, a donor was found and a transplant date set for March. At best, Aideen would be hospitalised for four-tosix weeks, so Rosie “went into overdrive”, wondering how she and husband Gerry could stay close by.
However, Aideen developed Graft Versus Host disease (GVHD), stage four in her gut and stage two on her skin, five weeks post-transplant. Her hospital stay stretched to 10 months.
Her parents stayed at the RMH in the hospital grounds. RMH supports families whose children are the sickest, who have the furthest to travel and whose hospital stay is the longest. “It kept my family together. Gerry did nights in the hospital with Aideen and I did days. If there was an emergency, we’d be in the hospital in five minutes; there was no hopping in the car.”
When Aideen’s siblings — who were cared for in Galway by Rosie’s mother-in-law — visited, the house was a haven. “Their lives were so uncertain with the craziness of it all, but they could stay in the house anytime. There was a lovely playhouse inside and a treehouse in the garden. It was their security blanket. Families are provided with hot meals. We had to spend Christmas Day 2011 in the house. A lovely couple come in every year and cook Christmas dinner for families at the RMH Christmas party early in December and again on Christmas Day.”
Aideen was the first child in Europe to survive GVHD stage four. Today, she’s in sixth class and full of energy. “She loves football, dance, drama, swimming. She’s always smiling,” says Rosie, who’s on the board of the RMH Charity.
CHALLENGING TIMES: Aideen Conneely stayed in hospital for 10 months following a bone marrow transplant.