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Friday 22 September 2017

'HSE abandoned us during Gavin's illness', says family of tragic transplant boy

Gavin Coyne
Gavin Coyne

The mother of a young boy who tragically died in Britain after being forced to travel there to undergo a heart transplant operation says the HSE abandoned her little boy.

Maria Coyne, the mother of Gavin Coyne (10), said she believes that if he could have had his heart operation in Ireland, he would still be alive.

Ms Coyne said Gavin, who dreamed of growing up to be a vet, should never have been forced to travel to Britain.

"We felt like the HSE abandoned our son," Ms Coyne told the Herald. "Crumlin [Children's Hospital] did everything they could but, at the end of the day, they didn't have transplant services for children.

"Ireland has a Third World health system and the NHS embarrasses the HSE."

Gavin Coyne with Robbie Keane and Johnny Sexton
Gavin Coyne with Robbie Keane and Johnny Sexton

Ms Coyne has vowed to change the situation in Ireland to save other families from the heartbreak they suffered.

"My family don't want to see another child go through what Gavin did. My son should have been treated in his own country and he shouldn't have died in England," she said.

"We need this treatment now in Ireland and we are going to campaign for it."

The family has established The Gavin Coyne Trust and hopes to raise enough money to help any other families who need to travel to the UK.

"We know how horrible it all is. Gavin was taken off on his own on a plane and we were handed a piece of paper and told to get flights to the UK," Ms Coyne said.

"We want to do this in Gavin's memory, so no other child or family has to go through this."

Gavin Coyne with mum Maria, dad Thomas, sisters Rachel and Jessica
Gavin Coyne with mum Maria, dad Thomas, sisters Rachel and Jessica

Grief

It took 10 weeks for Gavin's body to be returned home to Donaghmede after a post-mortem in England, which added to the family's grief.

They have been left with a bill of hundreds of euro for the flights and for a hearse to collect little Gavin's body. They also still have to pay more than €6,500 in funeral costs.

As if losing a child was not enough, Ms Coyne feels the fact her family had to travel made the situation even harder.

She said she does not believe Irish children should have to wait several years for this country to introduce child transplant facilities.

National Organ Donation and Transplant Office director Professor Jim Egan has said it could take years for such a service to be established.

It recently emerged that Irish children awaiting a transplant in the UK cannot even be guaranteed transport there within the necessary time, due to staffing difficulties in the Air Corps.

Gavin was diagnosed with heart failure in November last year, after suffering what was thought to be a stomach bug.

The bright schoolboy, who got one of the highest scores his teacher had ever seen in both maths and English, was admitted to Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin.

By January 19, Gavin was so sick he was flown to Freeman Hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne. The Holy Trinity pupil, a voracious reader, was placed on the heart transplant list in the UK the following day.

However, just weeks later, on February 20, Gavin died.

"Gavin had been doing so well. He'd been in bed 20 days straight but then he was suddenly up and walking about," Ms Coyne said.

"It was such a shock when he died. Everyone in the hospital was shocked. Even the doctors were all crying when he passed away because they'd seen him up and about."

The "kind-hearted" boy had suffered a massive bleed on the brain and died only hours after he had been playing Scrabble.

"He suddenly started saying he had a headache and then I could see the pain on his face," Ms Coyne said.

"I lay with him for 20 minutes and then he said he wanted to sit up, but he was already sitting up with his dad.

Goodbye

"We did get to say goodbye but Gavin wasn't aware anymore. He had a bleed on the brain and that was it, they sedated him and my son was gone."

She never for one moment thought her son would die. He had not shown any signs of being severely ill during his life.

Doctors in the UK said the child could have had an underlying condition, mitochondrial disease, which can cause organ failure.

"Gavin hadn't ever been a sick child," she said. "We'd just come back from holidays three weeks earlier and he got a stomach bug. We didn't know if that was the cause but we thought everything would be OK."

Without any child transplant facilities in Ireland, Gavin was not placed on any list here and his mother is convinced her son would have had a better chance at survival if he had been.

"Gavin could've been placed on the transplant list weeks earlier but he wasn't because they don't put a child on a British list over here in Ireland," she said.

Children in Ireland have to be first reviewed by a British medical team before they can be listed for transplant.

Ms Coyne also spoke about the practical difficulties of Gavin's treatment in the UK.

"We didn't know where we were going. We walked into the hospital at 10pm at night and didn't know where we would be staying or where we were," she said.

A spokeswoman for the HSE said: "The HSE wishes to express its sympathy to the Coyne family on the recent loss of their son Gavin.

"While the HSE does not comment on the detail of individual cases, as background information, it is not current health policy to have paediatric heart transplant services in Ireland due to the low volume of activity. However, this position is under review."

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