In many homes, the lowly telephone is the poor relation of the mobile phone, but not in the Byrne household, where a functioning landline could help save a baby’s life.
Unfortunately for Ann-Marie and Seán Byrne, their landline is highly unreliable — a cause of grave concern for a couple waiting for a life-saving call from the UK.
The Byrnes’ seven-month-old daughter, Emily, needs a liver transplant and is on a waiting list. The call could come at any time and the couple is terrified that problems with their landline will prevent them getting it.
While Ann-Marie has a mobile phone, she needs to keep a second line clear at all times.
Ann-Marie, from Killenagh Mountain, Knockanore, Tallow, Co Waterford, whose phone company is Eir, said coverage in the area is “absolutely atrocious”.
For instance last Saturday they got a phonecall to the house at 5am.
When they went to pick it up, they got a message saying ‘check your phoneline’. Ann-Marie says it was out of action for the next three hours.
“When the phone rang at that hour, we thought it might be the first call [for transplant]. We’d been warned it was more likely in the middle of the night. We didn’t know what to do when we got the message to check our phone,” says Ann-Marie.
She rang the National Emergency Operations Centre, which is due to make contact when a liver does become available — however, the call was not from the centre.
Ann-Marie says when that call does come, it will be to tell her what to do and where to go. She will need her mobile to make immediate contact with her husband and to organise care for Cormac, her toddler.
“To have a landline is absolutely imperative so that I can make those other phonecalls to help me get organised so that I can get on the road to England as fast as we can,” she says.
Emily was born at Cork University Maternity Hospital in June and initially did well, except that she had prolonged jaundice. They returned to CUMH in September and she was diagnosed with biliary atresia, a childhood disease of the liver in which one or more bile ducts are abnormally narrow, blocked, or absent.
She was sent to the UK for a “re-plumbing job”. It was unsuccessful. Ann-Marie says had she been diagnosed sooner, the outcome would probably have been better.
In the meantime, she must be vigilant about her baby’s blood sugar levels and must tube-feed her at night.
Without the transplant, her liver will continue to deteriorate.
She’s been on the waiting list over two months and the family has yet to get a call. Ann-Marie, who highlighted her case on Waterford radio station WLR FM, says she has been in contact with Eir “on umpteen occasions, including for four hours one day last week”.
She says the company sent a technician to the house — but that the problem is with the local, antiquated exchange and that it needs to be replaced.
“The whole parish of Knockanore is desperate to have the exchange updated — it’s going back to the ’60s,” she says.
In a statement, Eir said: “We are aware that Ms Byrne is experiencing issues with her service. We know that this is a particularly difficult and worrying time for her.
“Our technical teams are investigating the matter and are doing everything possible to find a solution. We will continue to stay in contact with Ms Byrne.”
Eir technicians are due to visit the Byrne home again tomorrow.
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