The Irish Mail on Sunday
THE VILLAGE THAT CARED
A VILLAGE in Donegal has rallied around the family of a two-year-old boy with a litany of severe illnesses including cancer.
The locals have raised money to help foot the travel and living expenses of his young parents. They have been forced to give up their jobs to care for him.
The community of 400 raised more than €17,000 in a night for Michael McLaughlin.
Michael has a genetic disorder that causes tumours and learning difficulties. He is autistic, has a form of epilepsy, and compounding the misery, was he recently diagnosed with cancer and told his leg would have to be amputated.
Michael, who lives in Frosses, south Donegal, was nicknamed Birdie when he was born because of his big, bird-like eyes.
In December 2011, when he was 10 weeks old, his parents Mary and Kevin began to find curious marks on his skin.
Doctors referred him to specialists in Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, who suspected he had neurofibromatosis type 1 – a genetic disorder that causes tumours to grow along the nerves and leaves sufferers susceptible to learning difficulties.
While waiting for the genetic blood test results, Mary and Kevin
‘He couldn’t take solids,
sit up or hold a bottle’
began to notice something else was not quite right.
Mary said: ‘As milestones started to approach, things that Patrick [Michael’s four-year-old brother] would have done at a certain age just didn’t come for Michael. He was like an infant. He couldn’t lift his head up, he was really floppy.
‘He wouldn’t look at me or his dad when we walked into the room. He couldn’t take solids, sit up or hold a bottle when he should have been able to. He was just like a really beautiful doll.
‘I had this thing in my head, I wanted him to be able to sit at his first birthday, but it didn’t happen and I was devastated.’
Shortly after his matosis was confirmed in 2012, Michael was diagnosed with autism, as well as severe learning difficulties causing him to develop more slowly than he should have. He also began to have seizures where his eyes would glaze over and he would vomit without appearing to realise.
This setback was diagnosed as petit mal epilepsy, but the medication he was prescribed seemed to bring about a significant improvement and allowed him to achieve a significant milestone.
‘He learned to pull up and stand, and we were just over the moon,’ Mary said. But only a couple of weeks after learning how to stand, Michael began to fall over in
‘He’s responding well –
I think he’s a winner’
apparent pain. His foot appeared swollen.
It was another tumour caused by his neurofibromatosis – but it had developed into a rare form of cancer called Rhabdomyosarcoma. He is undergoing chemotherapy at St John’s Oncology Ward in Crumlin, where two months ago the family was told that Michael’s foot would have to be amputated.
With his health problems becoming ever more grave, Mary had little choice but to give up her job in Harvey’s Point Hotel and Kevin also gave up his role at Lough Eske Hotel in order to care for Michael and his brothers, Patrick, four, and Martin, 16, who is also autistic.
A fortnight ago, family friend Sinéad McGowan held a fundraising concert for Michael after noticing that the family were too proud to ask for help despite being in desperate need of it.
‘As a working mother myself, I know that a family cannot possibly cope without an income and two sick children, so I felt compelled to help them,’ she said.
Local businessman Donagh Kelly sponsored the top three prizes for the fundraiser – four Garth Brooks tickets, four One Direction tickets and a day trip in a helicopter.
The Donegal Town Rowing Club raised €3,000 from raffle tickets.
In total, the event raised raised €17,000 from 400 locals
Mary said: ‘The money raised has made such a difference. It means we can get Michael a new wheelchair, it means we’re not terrified about the next five chemos coming up that we can’t afford to go with him to Dublin. We are so grateful.’
Michael’s chemotherapy finishes in September, and his family are hopeful that he will make a full recovery from this cancer.
Mary said: ‘His last test showed that he was responding well to his chemotherapy. I think he’s a winner. I just couldn’t imagine a world without our Birdie in it.’
To help the McLaughlin family, visit their Facebook page, ‘Michael Birdie McLaughlin’, and click on the iDonate link.