A shining star

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Ireland’s Children’s Hospice, LauraLynn has become a second home for Eoghan Dunne and his family

The word hospice connotes many emotions; sickness, sadness, pain, grief. ese feelings are accurate in many instances but LauraLynn, Ireland’s Children’s Hospice, is different to the above in almost every aspect. Teresa Dunne’s five year- old son, Eoghan, has been visiting the hospice for over a year and the care he has received has had a profound impact on not just him, but the entire Dunne family. “We made our first visit to LauraLynn in April last year but I feel like we’ve been there forever,” says Teresa. “I don’t know what we did without it.”

To say life before LauraLynn was difficult for the Dunnes would be putting it mildly. Born
a perfectly healthy child, Eoghan became ill a week before his first birthday and no one could have predicted the series of heart-breaking events that would follow.

“He had a high fever and he was lethargic,
I brought him to the GP and then we went to hospital. Unfortunately, in hospital he suffered severe respiratory distress and had pneumonia. He developed septic shock, multi organ failure and had cardiac arrest. It took ten minutes to resuscitate him and because of that he suffered major neurological damage. That’s why he now has quadriplegic cerebral palsy. He has epilepsy, is visually impaired, legally blind and he can’t walk or talk. He will need 24-hour care for the rest of his life.”

In spite of his challenges Eoghan’s mum says he is a happy little boy who never complains. “We’re very lucky in other ways. He’s always smiling and loves to give kisses. He’s adored by his family and he charms everyone he meets.” It was a paediatrician who first brought up the subject of taking Eoghan to LauraLynn. Teresa says that up until that point she didn’t know about the hospice and it wasn’t something she wanted to do.

“She [the paediatrician] spoke to us about LauraLynn and said it was a hospice but I was very reluctant. She said to think about it and about six months later when she brought it up again, I said okay. When we went up to see LauraLynn I was daunted at first but I have to say it was just gorgeous. It’s a lovely place, the building is bright and airy and really child friendly. When I walked in there were loads of paintings on the walls that the children had done, there were fairy doors and toys and everybody was smiling.

“Then we went on a tour of LauraLynn; we saw the house and the bedrooms. Every child that goes to LauraLynn has their own room;
it’s an en suite with a huge window and door, so they can actually be wheeled straight out into the garden from their bedroom. They have their own PC over their bed and they can watch children’s programmes or listen to music.
It’s brilliant for parents as well because you
can Skype your child if they’re staying there. They can see you and hear your voice, which I thought was really nice.”

Teresa and her husband Ronan also have two daughters, Ciara and Keelin, aged seven and nine. Teresa explains that the girls have reached an age where they are more aware of their younger brother’s disabilities and have questioned why he can’t do some of the things that they can. rough the hospice the girls have received therapy as a way of working through their questions and thoughts. Teresa says that having a brother with disabilities can be difficult for her daughters, but the therapy has been a big help.

“It’s a lot on them. They have started asking questions like, ‘Why can’t he walk?’ or, ‘Why can’t he talk?’ and you kind of don’t even know what to say to them. The girls have actually received therapy in LauraLynn, which is brilliant and Michelle, the play specialist there, has gone through it with them. It’s hard on the girls because we can’t just hop into the car and go somewhere with them.

“Eoghan is visually impaired; he can only really see shadows so he doesn’t like going to noisy places, that frightens him. We have to pack a bag with all of his medications and different things, it’s like a military operation that we have to plan. Often, it’s hard for me to go on my own with the three kids, just in case Eoghan gets upset or if he was sick. I would always have to get my mother or my sister or somebody to come with me if my husband was working.”

The Dunne Family at the 2017 LauraLynn Oscars – Ronan and Teresa with Eoghan and sisters and Ciara (l) and Keelin (r)

The Dunne Family at the 2017 LauraLynn Oscars – Ronan and Teresa with Eoghan and sisters and Ciara (l) and Keelin (r)

When speaking to Teresa she says that bringing a sense of normalcy to everyday life is very important to the family. LauraLynn works hard to ensure that the children staying there don’t miss out on celebrating days that some of us take for granted. “It’s really good for Eoghan because he
gets to celebrate days that that kids with life limiting conditions mightn’t get to experience. We had a little parade on St Patrick’s Day, pancakes on Pancake Tuesday, we’ve met Bosco a few times. Eoghan was also on The Late Late Toy Show last year. We met Ryan [Tubridy] and we were in the green room, the build-up to it was so exciting. It was lovely.”

The family recently attended the LauraLynn Oscars where eight short films were screened, all starring the children of LauraLynn and their families. Eoghan won in the Best Drama category for his film Paw Patrol Birthday Heroes. e family came up with the idea, the storyline was written by the Fair City scriptwriters and Teresa says the whole process turned out to be a lovely experience they got to share as a family.

“When were told that we had been chosen to make a movie I thought, ‘Does this involve work?’ [Laughs] but it was absolutely brilliant,” says Teresa. “The play therapist asked us if there was any movie that we would like to make and we decided that we would make a movie about Eoghan’s birthday, that way we were able to get everyone who’s involved in his life into the movie and it’s all about him. It was really special for us because we had never been to the cinema as a family before. Eoghan was there with all his cousins and grannies, looking at ourselves on screen.”

Allowing someone to look after your child takes a huge amount of faith and confidence, but if your child has a disability, this trust
is heightened. Teresa says that LauraLynn affords her the opportunity to simply be Eoghan’s mum and not his carer which means that, even for a short amount of time, she can enjoy playing with her son and not have to worry that he is alright.

“I know that the nurses are caring for him, they’re worrying about the medication, they’re worrying about the oxygen and the suctioning, the nappy changing and all that, so I can go down and play with him. We can just do normal things and we don’t have to worry. ey have a sensory playground and there’s a roundabout that Eoghan can go on with his sisters, things he wouldn’t be able to do anywhere else.

“The girls love LauraLynn, when they
hear Eoghan’s going they want to go too.
We usually stay because they have family accommodation upstairs, so it’s like staying in a hotel. LauraLynn doesn’t feel like a hospice or a hospital at all, it’s just fun and laughter and everybody is happy. They’re just so good. I have to say we’re very, very lucky and fortunate now.”

Michelle Newman