herald

Friday 23 February 2018

'I would give anything to hear the sound of Eoin's voice' - mum Jean

Anthony and Jean McCallig with their sons Daniel (left) and Eoin at their home in Killybegs. Photo: Caroline Quinn
Anthony and Jean McCallig with their sons Daniel (left) and Eoin at their home in Killybegs. Photo: Caroline Quinn

The loving mother of a boy with cerebral palsy - who was awarded a €15m settlement from a Dublin maternity hospital - says that the payment will offer lifetime security, but she still "aches" to hear her son's voice.

Eoin McCallig turned five on Friday and, for the first time, the schoolboy's birthday had become "a celebration of his life," his mum Jean McCallig said.

Since little Eoin was born, Jean (41), from Perrystown, Dublin, and husband Anthony (39), from Dunkineely, Co Donegal, have suffered the results of the Coombe Hospital's actions on November 24, 2012, following errors leading up to the birth of their first child.

Grief

Finally, last Tuesday - just before Eoin's birthday - the President of the High Court, Mr Justice Peter Kelly, awarded the settlement - to be paid out in instalments - to help Eoin have the best care possible.

"There's thousands of families out there trying to care for their kids and they're on the breadline, so in some ways we're very fortunate," Jean told the Herald.

"But my biggest grief is I don't know if, when Eoin grows older, when he understands his condition, what will he feel will be his biggest loss?

"For me the biggest loss is his voice, to not hear him talk, shout at me, to scream at me. I'd give anything to hear the sound of his voice.

"I look in his eyes and ache, wondering, 'What are you thinking?' I just ache to hear his voice."

In the last couple of months, Eoin has made attempts to speak, making "noises", and his humour is ever-present despite his inability to verbally communicate.

The devoted mother has twice been diagnosed with breast cancer and she finally had a mastectomy in April this year, while dealing with the stress of fighting a lengthy legal action.

Anthony and Jean McCallig at the Four Courts last week. Photo: Collins Courts
Anthony and Jean McCallig at the Four Courts last week. Photo: Collins Courts

When the child they had looked so forward to welcoming into the world was born with severe disabilities, the couple were both forced to leave their working lives to look after Eoin and his younger brother, Daniel (2). The McCalligs have had to live on social welfare and move to four different rented homes between Dublin and Donegal.

"We had one stress on top of another," Jean said while caring for her boys at the family's latest rented home in Co Donegal.

"You feel like it's all going to crumble but it's the same for anyone who's been sick who has young kids.

"It's the same for anyone with a disabled child. You get through it because they need you there for them, my children are everything."

The High Court heard last week how the case seemed to involve "error upon error", including a failure to act on instructions to move Jean to a delivery room earlier and to ensure continuous monitoring of the foetal heartbeat.

Sadly, Jean had blamed herself unnecessarily for something she couldn't have prevented. The McCalligs feel the apology should have been offered earlier to avoid such personal suffering.

Eoin playing happily at home
Eoin playing happily at home

"I still wish I could get that hour-and-a-half back. That I'd known more at the time," Jean said.

"I look back even at myself and think, 'What if I'd made more of a fuss? Was there something more I could have done?'

"I don't think anyone set out that day with the intention of letting me down but it's hugely traumatic. I lost a lot in those weeks after giving birth.

Blows

"We've been dealt some blows," the former bank worker added, - though she made it clear she's refusing to dwell on it.

Jean has dealt with her own health issues but those "are not the priority" in all of this. It's obvious her two sons' welfare takes precedence.

"A couple of years before Eoin was born, I had breast cancer and then this summer I had breast cancer again, so it's one thing after another.

"I'd no time to recover from one thing to the next and with children, disabled or not, you don't really have time to feel sorry for yourself, or say, 'I'm going to bed for the next three months.' You have to get on with it - for the sake of the children above all.

"But after my mastectomy, I couldn't lift Eoin, I had to have someone with me all the time this summer. The frustration and not being able to be physically as close to Eoin, was hard.

"I got on with it, pushed through it, you don't have time to dwell. The main thing was about survival and doing whatever it took. But it does make you more fearful about your life expectancy because the children are depending on me, especially Eoin.

"With Daniel you want to get him to an age he can look after himself, but with Eoin, it's terrible to think you might not be here for as long as you can.

"And we had to move while this was all going on too. Coincidentally and unfortunately, this happened at the same time I got my diagnosis. I was trying to recover from a major operation and go through a huge legal case.

"Eoin is one of those people, his whole face, smiles, it's his mouth, it's his eyes, it's a really beaming smile, in some ways it makes it tougher though."

Anthony, who's from a family of six, said: "The only thing I ever wanted to be was a good dad, I always loved children. Kids are so innocent, there's no badness in them."

However, Anthony's face drops as he recalls "the darkest day of my life".

Eoin was several days old when he and Jean were told the news of their son's brain injury.

Hopeful

"We were still hopeful. They were trying to reassure us," he said.

"They told us Eoin probably wouldn't walk or talk and I remember looking at my baby son in an incubator. I said to him in tears, 'You're going to have a long, hard life ahead of you'."

Anthony said the settlement will now ensure "that when we one day die, Eoin won't have to go into institutional care.

"He'll get the best help there is, have the best chance in life, to be happy and we hope one day for a cure and we'll be in the best place to afford that now."

The family thanked Niall Mor National School in Killybegs, where Eoin attends mainstream and special needs classes, and headteacher Michael McGuinness.

The couple also paid tribute to the work of the Jack and Jill Foundation.

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