Grieving mum's plea to Harris over 'lack of compassion' for late son (10)
The mother of a little boy who died in hospital while awaiting a heart transplant claims Health Minister Simon Harris has ignored her email plea to prevent other children "falling through the cracks".
Maria Coyne's son Gavin was only 10 when he passed away in the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne last February 20.
It was 10 days before his body was brought home by ferry, and the family were left to pay to transport the coffin to Dublin from Belfast.
Ms Coyne (44), wrote to Mr Harris, hoping he would be able to protect other families from having to fork out thousands of euro on travel to Britain and to ensure that all children, including those who lost their life, would be returned home by the Air Corps and not shipped home on a boat.
"I sent an email to Mr Harr-is on October 4, and still no response," she told the Herald.
"He can sit in a room with his experts, but there's no one more expert than my family on the cracks in the health system for transplant patients - we've experienced it. We need to fill the cracks, but we need the minister to help us.
"To not be answered shows a lack of compassion from the minister.
"I'm annoyed he hasn't answered me because this is an important issue. My son died and I can't bring him back, but I can help others."
Ms Coyne said Labour senator Aodhan O Riordain had told her the minister mentioned that he would "arrange something" regarding contact, but he has still not been in touch.
"The HSE did ring me about reimbursing me for flights during the time we visited Gavin in England, but I think that might be for just one flight," said Ms Coyne.
Holy Trinity School pupil Gavin, from Clarehall, was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy - which reduces the heart's ability to pump blood - in November last year.
He had just returned from a family holiday in Florida when he became ill.
In her email to the Mr Harr-is, Ms Coyne said her family had felt "cold and alone" when Gavin was seriously ill.
"We were the unfortunate family who fell through the cracks, but now that we're aware of them, let's fill them in," she said.
"I'd hate to think another family would have to face what we did, especially at such a stressful and traumatic time."
A Department of Health spokeswoman said: "The minister wishes to extend his sympathies to Gavin's family.
"He's very aware of the difficulties faced by the parents of children who require to travel to the UK for organ transplant."
Gavin was initially treated at Temple Street Children's Hospital before being sent to Crumlin Children's Hospital.
He was transferred to Newcastle last January 19 to await a heart transplant, but died on February 20 before receiving a new organ.
Ms Coyne, her husband Tom (44), and Gavin's sisters, nursing student Rachel (18) and schoolgirl Jessica (16), had to make around 20 flights in a month to see Gavin as he grew increasingly ill.
The family spent thousands of euro to be by his side and to finally transport his body home in "the most undignified" manner.
Ms Coyne said that while grieving the loss of her son, it further broke her heart to know that the Air Corps would not be bringing him home.
"It was never about money and I won't make this about that," she said.
"It was the indignity Gavin suffered on top of all the months of pain and the lack of care shown us by the HSE."
The department spokeswoman said a private provider had now been asked to offer a dedicated flight service. The HSE is also examining how families of young transplant patients can be better supported.