The arc of Arron O’Leary’s life is short but the impact was huge.
The image of the 11-year-old sitting up in his hospital bed after pulling through a gruelling double lung transplant gave hope to cystic fibrosis sufferers everywhere.
Tragically, despite initially adjusting well to his new lungs, Arron has passed away at the age of 13.
The plight of Arron, from Ballinhassig, Co Cork, hit the headlines when his father Paul spoke of his family’s delight at the news suitable organs had become available for his son at a time when his condition was critical.
On December 7, 2015, he underwent a six-hour life-saving operation at Freeman Hospital in Newcastle. His first request upon waking was to ask for a cup of tea.
There was much jubilation in the newspapers when a local Sainsbury store organised a trolley dash for young Arron when he was well enough to participate. Everyone was rooting for the youngster.
I visited the family at their home approximately a year ago and Arron told me of his career plans. “A realistic job would be a garda,” he said, “but my dream job would be an ice trucker in Alaska, you can earn $20,000 [€18,000] a month.”
He was a gorgeous, smiling boy, worshipped by his parents Paul and Caroline, who were rejoicing at their son’s new lease of life. And although his anti-rejection drugs meant taking 17 or 18 pills a day, Paul said it was nothing compared to the oxygen tank and the IV port for administering antibiotics and all the other bits of machinery, that prior to his transplant, helped keep him alive.
Arron, whose older brother Cian, 15, also has CF, was looking forward to going kayaking in the summer and photographs on Facebook show him living life to the full, driving a rib, and out and about just over a fortnight ago with Green Knights Ireland Military Motorbike Association, of which his uncle is a member.
In November, both Arron and Cian were honoured for their courage in battling illness and received a West Cork Garda Youth Award. On January 19, he celebrated becoming a teenager.
Arron was loved deeply by all who knew him. His mother organised endless fundraising, including setting up the Cork 65 Roses gala ball, with help from family and friends, ultimately donating €150,000 to the Munster CF charity, Build4Life.
Yesterday Joe Browne, founder of Build4Life, said they were devastated for Arron and his family.
“Arron and his family have been involved with Build4Life since its inception and have raised huge amounts of money to develop CF isolation units at Cork University Hospital — such as the unit that opened just this week as part of the new paediatric outpatient development.
“We are very sorry that the O’Leary’s have lost their beautiful boy,” Joe said.
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