Ho ho homeward bound: Teenager leaves hospital just in time for Christmas

Teenager Aaron Gallagher has cystic fibrosis, and after six weeks in hospital, he is happy just to be back with his family for Christmas, says Áilín Quinlan

TEAM WORK: Aaron Gallagher at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, and members of the Munster rugby team (l-r): Dave O’Callaghan, James French, Ben Healy, Conor Oliver, John Ryan and Niall Scannell. In front: Sam Arnold and Rory Scannell. Picture: Conor Healy/ Picture it Photography

THIS will be a special Christmas for teenager Aaron Gallagher, who, after six weeks in hospital, couldn’t wait to get home to Westmeath to see the Christmas tree and all the festive decorations.

Aaron, who has cystic fibrosis, was admitted to Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, in Crumlin, with a severe lung infection on November 5.

He wasn’t released until December 14, and only, doctors insisted, on the basis that he undertake a six-month course of antibiotics.

This 13-year-old is used to coping with the demands of his disease. A a first-year student at Mullingar Christian Brothers School, Aaron was diagnosed with the condition about a week after his birth, and has been in and out of hospital.

But there was an upside to his long hospital stay. Several Munster Rugby players visited the hospital.

“The players came to the hospital a few days before I was due to come home, so I got to meet Niall Scannell and Sam Arnold and the others, as well,” he says, adding that they asked him if he was happy to be going home.

“I said I was. I only have to go into hospital quite rarely, but I’m always glad to go home!”

However, now that he’s better again, just in time for Christmas, Aaron’s next priority is to ensure that Santa leaves a big set of Lego and an iPad under the Christmas tree for him.

Aaron is also looking forward to catching up with his big brothers, Nathan (17) and 15-year-old Jacob, who, like Aaron, has cystic fibrosis, and who, coincidentally, spent a fortnight in November in the same hospital. However, Jacob was released at the start of December.

“Aaron was tested for cystic fibrosis immediately after he was born, because Jacob had the condition,” says Aaron’s mum, Wendy. She says Aaron is mad about animals.

He’d certainly want to be - the family home, in Killucan, Co Westmeath, plays host to a menagerie of six dogs and several cats, along with a thriving flock of ducks and chickens.

“We have three German shepherds, Aaron’s own beagle, as well as a collie and a boxer,” laughs Wendy.

“We also have three cats, two ducks, and four chickens,” she says, adding that Aaron always helps out with the care of the animals, and walks the six dogs every day.

“We take them out for walks in turn, two at a time,” says Wendy, who adds that although Aaron was finally allowed to leave hospital on December 14, he’s being kept out of school until after Christmas, so, for him, the holidays started early.

“All he wanted to do was to come home,” says Wendy.

Cystic fibrosis is a silent illness. “Aaron looks very well unless he has an infection,” she says, adding that it can sometimes be quite hard to spot when Aaron and Jacob initially become ill.

“When the boys become ill, it creeps up very slowly on them,” she says, adding that she wanted to pay tribute to the staff who provide such superb care for her boys at Our Lady’s.

“It’s only when Aaron recovers and is so well again, that you really see the benefit of the care he gets in the hospital.”

Aaron’s ambition is to qualify as a chef. He has become interested in food as a result of his condition, says his proud mum. “He has problems putting on weight and absorbing his food, because of his condition.

“When he was seven, he was fitted with a feeding peg and he is now fed five times a week at night-time to supplement his calorie intake from his normal diet.

“Because of his condition, he cannot absorb enough calories from normal food to sustain his growth.

“He is doing very well now and is putting on weight and height.”

As of now, it’s all systems go for Christmas Day. The family traditionally spends the morning in Dublin at their grandparents’ house, where they meet up with their extended family, and the afternoon back at their own house in Killucan.

“We have a family tradition that we go to grandad and grandma’s house in Dublin on Christmas morning,” Wendy explains.

“The whole family comes and we all open our presents and exchange gifts, and then we have our family Christmas dinner back at home.

“I’ll prepare everything the day before,” Wendy says, adding that after dinner, the whole family sits down to watch a film on TV.

St Stephen’s Day is another big family day, with everybody sitting around and just chilling.

“We have a pyjama day and we all sit around and build Lego,” says Wendy.

We can only hope that Santa’s listening and that the fat man in the red suit comes through with that big Lego set for Aaron.

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