Sunday 23 September 2018

'I was ready to bury my girl (3) in swine flu nightmare', says mum

Emma Kelly with her mum Serena Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Emma Kelly with her mum Serena Photo: Frank Mc Grath

This little girl was forced to travel to Sweden to undergo lifesaving treatment for swine flu due to resource shortages in Ireland.

Emma Kelly (3) contracted the potentially deadly H1N1 virus and was given no chance of survival by Irish doctors unless she underwent ECMO treatment.

Crumlin's Children's Hospital has the machine for the treatment, but shockingly it can only be used on cardiac patients and not respiratory patients like Emma.

Instead she was transferred to Sweden with a team of medics.

Emma's mother Serena Kelly said that she was told her daughter had a 50/50 chance of survival, even if she travelled to Sweden. She said she was "ready to bury" her daughter.


"I will never forget the pain and fear that we went through," Serena told the Herald.

Emma was born without a fully-formed oesophagus and previously suffered health issues. But she was healthy when she was struck with life- threatening swine flu at the start of February.

"She had a temperature and her breathing was very laboured, so we brought her to the GP and he gave her an antibiotic," Serena said.

Emma initially showed signs of recovery, but her condition deteriorated and she was taken to Crumlin Children's Hospital, where an X-ray led to a diagnosis of double pneumonia.

"She really just slept and the nurse said 'You know Emma is very sick'. They moved her to beside the nurse's station," Serena said.

Emma was taken to see a respiratory specialist and Serena received the devastating news that her daughter had swine flu and was taken to intensive care.

"In my mind that was it. I was ready to bury her," Ms Kelly said. "The only news you ever hear is that people die from H1N1."

Doctors told Serena that her daughter would certainly die if she didn't receive ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) treatment - even then, her chances of survival were 50pc. The treatment works to externally oxygenate red blood cells and remove carbon dioxide from the blood.

Then came the blow that Emma would have to be sent to Sweden in a special aircraft for ECMO - despite there being a machine in the hospital. Serena, along with her brother, Kildare senior footballer Rob Kelly, had to book private flights and couldn't travel with Emma.

"That was the cruellest part. They were sending her to Sweden and I didn't even know if she was going to be alive when she arrived," she said.

Emma spent eight days in the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm where doctors were amazed at her progress. She was then returned her home in Straffan, Co Kildare, where she is on her way to a full recovery.


Serena, who praised the work of the hospital staff in Crumlin and in Sweden, said she wanted to go public with her story.

"First, because I want people to know that it's a good story - so many people die from swine flu, but you can survive," she said.

But she was also furious that anyone should have to travel to Sweden to get the care that they need.

A statement from Crumlin's Children Hospital confirmed that it had an ECMO service as part of its cardiac programme, but not as a respiratory service.

"In order to provide respiratory ECMO to children, significant additional resources are required which include staffing and additional capacity in terms of dedicated paediatric critical care beds," it said.

"It is accepted that a cardiac and respiratory ECMO programme for children similar to that provided for adult patients is required," it added.

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