A FEAKLE family, who have had “a roller coaster year” since their youngest member was diagnosed with a serious heart defect, are hoping to harness the goodwill of the festive season to raise funds for Crumlin Children’s Hospital.
Back in April, in the teeth of the lockdown, Avril Collentine and her husband Henry Hayes were celebrating the birth of their second child, Freya, and looking forward to bringing her home to meet her two-and-a-half year-old brother Harry.
“The lockdown did make things a bit harder, but at least I wasn’t a first-time mum,” said Avril. “Freya was born on a Monday and on Wednesday we were getting ready to go home and I was really glad about that. The team were doing a few final checks when one of the doctors thought she heard a murmur in Freya’s heart. We got referred to the neonatal unit and they did an ultra-sound scan. They sent the images to Crumlin, where they diagnosed a defect and a hole in Freya’s heart.”
Instead of returning to Feakle, the family found themselves rushing to Dublin. Freya was taken by ambulance and Avril and Henry were told to travel ahead of it by car. “That was hard,” Avril admitted. “We knew, though, that Freya was in great hands and the ambulance crew were amazing.”
After the team at Crumlin recommended open-heart surgery, the family returned home to allow baby Freya to build up her weight and strength. “There is a failure-to-thrive element to Freya’s condition because the heart has to work so much harder to pump blood around the body,” explained Avril. “The Crumlin team had a target of 7kg in mind before the surgery and we were a bit worried about getting there, but got amazing support from Dr Power in Limerick and went to Crumlin on a monthly basis. Because of Covid, only one parent was allowed in and, because I was breastfeeding, that was me. It was hard on Henry not being able to see Freya’s scans or to hear first-hand how things were going.”
As it turned out, Freya’s consultant called her in before she reached her target weight. At this stage, she was almost five months old.
“We got a call on a Monday to be prepared for Freya to have surgery at the start of the following week,” Avril outlined. “We were nervous, but the team in Crumlin were just amazing. They have everyone from a psychologist to a dietician to a social worker and they really prepare you well. We were told that Freya could be in hospital for anything from two weeks to five months, and to be ready for that.”
Freya’s surgery, which took several hours, involved a leading edge technique to patch the hole in her heart.
“I took her down to the theatre at 8am and gave her into the care of the surgical team,” explained Avril. “It was terribly hard, even though I knew she was getting the best of care. The team advised Henry and myself to go off for a walk and we got the call to come back at around 1pm. It felt like an age. Thankfully, everything went well. Freya was in ICU for four days after the operation. She was taken back in there, briefly, and was in hospital for 12 days in total. While we were there, we realised how lucky we were, especially when you see what other families are going through.”
While Freya has a life-long condition, the surgery has hugely improved her quality of life. “She’s hitting all of her milestones,” Avril said. “She’s teething now and putting everything in her mouth! She’s started crawling and nothing’s holding her back. She may need an intervention again when she’s an adult, but that will be much less invasive.
“I’m on extended maternity leave now which is great because we’re getting a bit of calm after the storm. It’s been a roller coaster year, a crazy year really and the team at Crumlin and the facilities there were great. There’s accommodation for parents and the support makes things so much easier.”
The family is now preparing for a fundraiser on December 27 and inviting tractors, cars and vehicles of all kinds to ‘dress up’ for Christmas and take part in a fundraising drive around Feakle.
“It gets under way at 2pm and it’s great because people will be able to stick together in their pods and family groups,” said Avril. “We’re also raising funds on Just Giving (Justgiving.com) and everyone who donates will be entered to a raffle that we’ll be holding on the day. There’ll be prizes too for the best dressed car and tractor. We really want to raise as much as we can for Crumlin to give something back for everything they’ve done for us and for the families that might not be as lucky as we were.”
Registration can be done on the day, or in advance by texting 087-9837472.