The father of the late inspirational Kerry teenager Donal Walsh fought back tears yesterday as he described the "shocking" conditions at Our Lady's Hospital in Crumlin which his son and the family endured for four torturous years.
By David Raleigh
In an emotional and honest interview, Fionbarr Walsh spoke for the first time about his first-hand experience of conditions at the hospital's cancer ward, which he described as bordering on third world. St John's cancer ward has since been completely renovated and handed over to the hospital in recent days.
It cost €4m and was funded entirely from public donations.
Unfortunately, for Donal, 16, and his heartbroken family, the upgraded cancer wing arrived far too late.
"We were sleeping on cot beds. I'm 6ft 1in and most of the camp beds there are 5ft 6in so you're sleeping on the likes of that beside your child who's sick and receiving chemotherapy and who’s sharing the room with another child who's in the same situation. The other child may be younger or older. There are machines beeping all night. The parents of the other child are sleeping beside their child," said Mr Walsh, a native of Knocklong, Co Limerick.
"So, you've four people sleeping in the same room, sharing two sinks and that's the facility including one wardrobe between the four of us," he added.
He added: "There was one parental shower, catering for 14 bedrooms. The 14 bedrooms cater for 23 people, including 23 adults and 23 kids. Then there's one bathroom which is there for the 23 kids. The adults shared a separate shower."
The children's cancer ward now houses 19 bedrooms - seven more than before - and all with en suite bathrooms. There is a parents room, a unit for teenage cancer patients, new play zone for younger patients, a school room.
"The public toilet has also been upgraded," said a spokesperson.
Commenting on the newly improved conditions, Mr Walsh said: "I think the improved conditions that are going on at the moment are very good, but it's a sad refection that, the majority of whatever is being done is being done by contributions from charity."
"It's not third world, but, it's not first world either, realistically. Having kids that are at their most vulnerable, when you're under chemotherapy, they're susceptible to every kind of infection. Conditions were quiet shocking."
He praised staff, who he described as "a second family".
"In fairness, the nurses, the doctors, the staff up there, work their hearts out to try and make sure that everything is as perfect as it can be for the kids. They're a second family to all of us."
Mr Walsh took slow deep breaths as he paid a moving tribute to his son -- a brave anti-suicide campaigner who finally succumbed to cancer last month after fighting it successfully twice beforehand.
"To me he was a giant. That's the only way I can describe it," he said his voice choking.
Mr Walsh was addressing students from eight Limerick schools who raised over €7,000 in Donal's name, for the continued refurbishment of Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin.
Up until recent weeks, the ward, designed in the 1950s, had not been upgraded since it was built in the 1960s.
"The students were inspired by Donal when they saw him on the Saturday Night Show [on RTE], and I got a tweet from St Munchin's College in Limerick asking would we consider allowing Donal's name to go forward. It was before he was dead, and we allowed it, and now it's in memory of Donal. Donal was aware it was going on," Fionbarr revealed.
The cheque, presented to the hospital yesterday, will go directly towards building a Teen Room where young adults battling cancer can go and chill out or be with their own peers.
"Donal would have been a champion for the Teen Room in Crumlin. The refurbishment of the cancer ward and the refurbishment of the cardiac ward are the two biggest projects at the hospital."
Mr Walsh also commented on the controversial debate surrounding the new national children's hospital, which is earmarked for construction on the grounds of St James' Hospital, Dublin.
"The biggest problem is the continued delay in the National Children's Hospital. I believe it's not going to happen now until 2019. So, Temple St and Crumlin Hospital are acting as the national children's hospital, and they're going to be there for the next six years and they need facilities that are at least up to date," Fionbarr said.
"It is voluntary contributions that are actually maintaining those two hospitals, for any refurbishment or any reconstruction. The one thing I would have said, as an advocate for the new national children's hospital is, I don't are we it's built; Let's get it built now."
In his first interview since Donal's funeral three weeks ago, MrWalsh paid tribute to his "giant" of a son.
He said: "We're trying to live on, live out his legacy. He has left quiet a legacy behind him. We're taking it day by day, as the song says, 'One day at a time'."
"Crumlin have taken on his legacy and set up their own website page in memory of Donal, which has been gratefully taken out of our hands so we can let it go. Donal has other causes that he has been involved with, which are the Palliative Care Unit and the Care For Kids at Tralee General Hospital where he got serious support from as well."
He added: "Conditions in the Children's Ward and the Palliative Care Unit at Tralee are very good, but the Palliative Care Unit is a day centre not an overnight centre so now they are looking at developing 14 rooms there so, there's another couple of million euro to be sought for that. I'm sure we'll row in behind it and do whatever we can do. There are certain things Donal has already done. He has asked some of his high profile sports friends to do and I'm sure they'll row in behind it as well."
DONAL'S LAST DAYS
"To me he was a giant, and that's what I said on the night, and he'll always be that to me."
Addressing students in Limerick yesterday he gave a further insight into Donal's last days.
"Five years ago we started on a journey with Donal, which brought us to Cappagh Hospital and Crumlin Hospital, both hospitals are quiet old, Cappagh is 115 years old and Crumlin was built in the 1960s. Crumlin hadn't any major refurbishment since the 1960s. It is cramped, I won't deny it. It's fairly hard going for parents and children in there. You end up with two parents with two children inside in one room. But, they're working on it and hopefully by August it will be completely organised."
He said to date, over €100,000 had been raised in his son's name.
He added: "I suppose the last mountain he had to climb was Wednesday, two weeks before he died. It was fifteen steps. It was a half an hour. It was before he got a chair lift into the house. When he was looking at that from his wheelchair, before he went up, there I saw a man who was looking at God's Mountain, and his mountain was only fifteen steps. He worked at it and he got up there. He stayed going up and down on the chair lift until the Friday night before he died. He died on the Sunday so, we only had a memory of Donal having two days in bed."
"This was a guy who was told he wouldn't make Christmas and he'd be damn lucky if he made the New Year, and that there was no way he was making Easter. Yet, he woke up to his mother on the first of May and he said 'Hey mum, I made the Summer.' And he kept on going until the 12th of May, and he kept on going with his writing as much as he could, and he went on the Saturday Night Sow on RTE."
"He shouldn't have had been walking since the previous February. Brendan O'Connor turned around and said to him on the morning of the show, if he would consider, that given it was probably the only chance he was ever going to get to be on a chat show, if he could take the glory of walking onto the chat show, that he should try and do it. So, we went to the studio about an hour early to practise, and we practised so he wouldn't trip on the step. If you look at the interview again he was actually out of breath by the time he sat down; That was because the cancer had eaten so badly into his lungs. But, he did not want to be seen in a wheelchair."
"He was an honourable young man. He shared, and he was always kind. He was sometimes overly kind in himself. He was too kind."
His voice becoming choked again Mr Walsh recalled his son's remarkably positive attitude to living.
"He was a lovely kid, and I know he would have been humbled, and probably a little disgusted by the ceremony that was his funeral, because of the amount of people who turned out. He would have said he was 'little ol Donal from Tralee', with a few cob webs and stories in between."
Speaking publicly about his son's funeral for the first time, Mr Walsh added: "But, at the end of the day, what I remember about that day, was the silence. It was the silence of his peers. There were over five thousand people assembled in Tralee. Two and a half thousand of those had to stand outside the church. And while the service was going on, that was the honour that Tralee gave to Donal. That was an honour to us."
To donate to the continued upgrade of the hospital visit www.cmrf.org or contact Lo-call 1890-507-508.
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