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“It’s nice to give something back”

YEARS after the loss of his beloved daughter Claire, Jimmy Howard is still working to raise funds for Crumlin Hospital.

A Killaloe man long based in Mallow, he was on the recent Siúl Sa Bhaile walk in North Clare, which has brought in around €10,000 for Children’s Health Foundation Crumlin.

Jimmy first came into contact with Crumlin almost 19 years ago, when he suffered a terrible loss. “At Christmas 2001 our eight-year-old daughter was diagnosed with leukaemia. She died the following week. She was diagnosed on December 19 and buried on St Stephen’s Day.”

Claire had been unwell for a couple of months, but it took quite a long time for her to be diagnosed. “She had been sick around Halloween. They put her on antibiotics and she came around a bit. Next thing she got sick again and they put her on stronger ones. Coming towards the middle of December she was starting to go rapidly downhill, but she still hadn’t been diagnosed.”

He says that when children are ill there is always a tendency to check for viral issues, rather than things as serious as leukaemia. When they did find out what she was suffering from, it was too late for much to be done. “My wife is a nurse in Mallow General Hospital and she was told by a fellow nurse in the Mercy Hospital that it wasn’t good. She didn’t spare her, just told her the way it was. Claire was moved then from the Mercy in Cork to Crumlin, and she only lasted three or four days in Crumlin before she died. They did try and help as much as they could, they gave her the chemo, but it was just too late really.”

The form of leukaemia that she suffered is actually more common in men aged in their 40s to 60s rather than in children.

Jimmy and his wife Sandra, along with their two remaining children, were left grappling with a terrible bereavement, their little daughter and sister’s life and potential suddenly vanished. “Grief is different for everyone, you go through a lot of stages. Anger… Not believing it… It wears you down. We were fairly grief stricken for the first couple of years. We still are in that we miss her every day, but for the first couple of years it was pretty hard. What we wanted was to do something.”

Some time later they began fundraising, and haven’t really stopped since. “We were sitting at home in the wintertime, and she is always on our mind. I was reading one of the Sunday papers and they were looking for volunteers to do some walking in Canada. I said to Sandra you should go, I think you had to raise €5,000 but we ended up raising €46,000 and we both went out.”

Over the years they have raised in excess of €160,000, through every sort of endeavour. “We’ve had concerts, quizzes, cake sales, sponsored shaves and all this craic, waxing, anything to make a few bob.”

Being so involved in doing something proactive to help people in similar situations to the one the family found themselves in back in 2001 has helped. “It’s nice to give back something. There are a lot of children up there and it’s a kind of a harrowing place to visit. A lot of the results are very good, but there are still children who die there.”

Most years a group travel abroad for a fundraising walk, but due to Covid-19 this year they had to stay in Ireland. “Normally a group of us would go abroad every year and do a sponsored walk. Go to Portugal or Spain, in the old days it used to be the States or Brazil. This year it had to be in Ireland and it was the brainchild of Liam Heffernan (a Kilkenny man whose daughter had life saving surgery some years back), he wanted to keep the group together and keep the interest up.”

Charities in general are seeing huge falls in income this year, and while Children’s Health Foundation Crumlin is not an exception, at least the recent Siúl Sa Bhaile walk in North Clare helps. “We have a walking group in Crumlin of people who have done various walks over the years. This year with Covid-19 it has not been possible. So, I organised a walk from Liscannor to Doolin over the Cliffs of Moher for day one and two with shorter options, and day three was a walk from Fanore to Doolin, also with shorter options,” says Liam Heffernan. “

We were based in the Armada Hotel for the week. Everybody was given a reusable face mask, and a little bottle of hand sanitiser.” He feels that the event is the kind of thing most people will find a sense of fulfillment in. “Anybody can do these challenges, it’s just about having the will, focus and confidence to do them. These are things that people wouldn’t normally do, but once you do them you never regret them.”