Not all superheroes wear capes: Adam King's friendship with CUH nurse Marie

One of Toy Show star Adam King's favourite people is his CUH nurse Marie McSweeney. Martha Brennan talks to her and Adam's parents about their long friendship
Not all superheroes wear capes: Adam King's friendship with CUH nurse Marie

Adam King with CUH nurse Marie McSweeney.

THE infectious joy of future NASA commander Adam King has captured the hearts of the nation since his appearance on this year’s Late Late Toy Show. However, the six-year-old was inspiring others long before he shot to stardom, including nurse Marie McSweeney, whom he wrote down as one of his top three celebrities for the Late Late Toy Show team.

“He’s been coming into us for his treatments since he was very small, he’s cute as a button,” Marie says over the phone in between performing procedures in CUH’s Seahorse ward. “He has the biggest eyes, they just light up, and he has a lovely infectious smile. He’s full of fun.” 

Adam’s parents, David and Fiona King from Killeagh in Co Cork, say that the response to Adam’s Late Late Toy Show appearance has been overwhelming and they’re touched that what they and Marie have long seen in Adam is being experienced by the whole country.

“Everyone is getting to see in Adam what we’ve always seen in him. That he’s just a fantastic child, full of joy,” says David. 

“He’s so positive,” Fiona says. “For Adam, every cloud has a silver lining, his outlook is just fantastic. He’s a very generous person and he always thinks of others.” 

This is evident not just from the fact that Adam’s favourite thing about being famous is taking socially-distanced selfies with people, but also by the thought he puts into his visits to CUH.

Always planning

Adam King claps in delight as he sees his favourite hospital porter, John Doyle on the Late Late Toy Show. 
Adam King claps in delight as he sees his favourite hospital porter, John Doyle on the Late Late Toy Show. 

“One year he dressed up as Santa and was giving out sweets to everybody as presents. He’s just a very sweet little boy,” Marie says. “He’s always planning and we know he’s going to have some fun with us. He plays with everybody, all the staff. It's fabulous.” 

Unfortunately, due to Covid-19 restrictions, Marie can’t travel between wards to visit Adam at the moment. However, she always finds a way to get in touch.

“Marie’s known Adam since he was a year old and every single time we’re in the hospital she’ll come to visit,” says Fiona. “She works in the [outpatient] Seahorse ward but even if we were on the [inpateint] Puffin ward she would make it her business to come to see him.

“We were in the Puffin ward in September for surgery and when we were discharged she came to meet Adam on the way out and when we arrived home she had sent a little present. It was just so thoughtful, so kind. They all go above and beyond the call of duty.” 

“I met him in the corridor that day and he was telling me jokes, he's so funny,” Marie says. “When he's telling the joke he starts skitting laughing before he even gets to the punch line. It's adorable. He just has a very bright face and he lights up when he’s smiling, so it’s always a pleasure to see him.” 

Marie isn’t the only staff member who has a special friendship with Adam. “He loves the care assistants on the Seahorse ward, Magella, and Maura,” Fiona says. “They know straight away when Adam comes in, they’ll get a nice soft slice of buttered white toast ready for him straight away. And the nurses, he adores them all.” 

Second family

Adam King at home in Killeagh with his 'A Hug for you' heart. 
Adam King at home in Killeagh with his 'A Hug for you' heart. 

Fiona and David say that the support of the staff, in CUH and Temple Street, where Adam also travels for treatments, makes a huge difference to the entire family.

“They are just amazing. They’re like Adam’s second family, he really looks forward to going to the hospital to visit Marie and the rest of the staff,” David says. “And they’re a support to us as well. Around this time last year, Adam broke his femur and when Adam breaks a bone he typically requires surgery, so every break is quite a tough experience for him.

“Fiona had just had Sarah (Adam’s baby sister) a couple of days before so she stayed home and I took him to hospital. Even in those dark moments, the staff are there for us and it was a tough moment. It was the 22nd or the 23rd of December and we were looking at the prospect of being in hospital for Christmas.

“The staff came down and I was just so emotional, I genuinely just cried in front of them. Adam's Surgeon, Sinead Boran, was extremely supportive and did everything she could to get Adam home for Christmas and we got home just in time on Christmas Eve. They’re always there for us for the joyous moments and even in the tough moments. We really appreciate them.” 

Adam was born with osteogenesis imperfecta type 3, the most severe form of the condition which causes brittle bones. However, the six-year-old always puts a positive spin on his many hospital visits. Last week when he headed into CUH for dental surgery, he dressed up as a Christmas elf, bringing in a basket of stickers to hand out to staff, while excitedly awaiting his first visit from the tooth fairy.

“You just have to construct a really positive scenario, to take the focus and emphasis away from the clinical and medical side of things and make it fun,” Fiona says. 

All of the staff will come from far and wide to visit him because he’s so positive and so full of fun and joy.

Adam even started bringing his now-famous virtual heart into the hospital earlier this year so he could show everyone that he still wants to hug them.

“Hugs and the love heart symbol have always been really special for Adam,” says Fiona. “Even as a toddler sitting in a hospital bed, he would make a little love heart symbol with his hands and hold it up to Marie, or whoever was there. The love heart has always been part of Adam’s spirit. It embodies the essence of what he’s all about.” 

Sink or swim

But really.... adventures with a difference by David King, illustrated by Jesse de la Cour, (€11.99) is available in Eason and independent book stores now
But really.... adventures with a difference by David King, illustrated by Jesse de la Cour, (€11.99) is available in Eason and independent book stores now

Adam’s parents say that one of the reasons Adam is so positive is because of his siblings, Danny (12), Katie (9), Robert (8), and Sarah (1). 

“Adam is the child he is very much because of his siblings but also very much because of his mother,” David says. “Whenever Adam goes for appointments there is never a negative word said about it, it’s always [treated as] the opportunity of a lifetime to go and see his hospital family. Fiona has created a home for us where there is no room for negativity. I am the way I am because of Fiona too.” 

His wife is quick to shrug off any praise, however. “I suppose when you’re faced with what will be for Adam a lifetime of hospital visits, because his condition is rare and chronic so it requires lifelong intervention, as a family, we’re either going to sink or swim and you have to swim,” she says. 

“You have to take joy in all of the little moments and create really positive memories of Adam. When he grows into an adult I hope he will look back at all of the time he spent in hospital with really fond memories and appreciate all the efforts that the staff made.” 

Marie, who’s worked in CUH for 16 years now, says the staff loves watching Adam and the other children who visit the hospital grow up.

“You do have that rapport with the children and the family, especially when they’re coming in frequently. It's just wonderful to see them and give them a good welcome because you want them to have a positive experience, especially if you’re doing any procedures or anything that is painful,” Marie says.

“You want to just get them through it and have some bit of fun and just to bring some little bit of cheer because it’s hard enough coming in and it's stressful for parents as well. But we get a lot out of it too, it's very rewarding.”

 Marie says the staff is especially appreciative of the joy that the children have brought them this year.

“Especially in this pandemic, I have to say, and all the staff would say this, work and meeting the children and the families, it’s just got us through this time,” she says. “It’s very rewarding. I couldn't work in any other area.” 

Fiona and David say their family has been floored by the reaction to Adam’s Toy Show appearance and are so appreciative of astronaut Chris Hadfield who chatted with Adam and his siblings on last week’s Late Late Show. The family is excited to grow Adam's message even further and continue to inspire people in the new year.

“We are just so grateful to everyone as a family. The outpouring of the love and support has been unbelievable,” David says. ”People are just so kind; the people we meet on the street, the people sending Adam gifts and cards from all over the country, and the national and international space community, it's just been phenomenal. This is a time in our lives that we will remember forever.”

But Really ... Adventures With a Difference by David King, illustrated by Jesse de la Cour (€11.99) is available in Eason and independent book stores now

How a paper heart inspired the nation

Adam King with his 'A Hug for you' heart.
Adam King with his 'A Hug for you' heart.

A piece of Adam King that has especially captured the nation is the heart-shaped card he holds up when he wishes he could embrace someone. The idea for Adam’s virtual hug originally came from missing his teacher during lockdown. 

“Adam was in junior infants at the time and he really adored his teacher and missed her so much,” says his mum Fiona. “We decided to make [it] to express to her that we wanted to give her a hug.” 

Ms Cahillane of Clonpriest National School adored the photo of Adam with the hug that Fiona sent. “It’s amazing to see how it’s spread," Fiona says of the hug which has since been licenced. 

"People are feeling that loss of physical touch and this is just a way to make it tangible at the moment."

Here, Adam shares his 'A Hug for you' heart for readers to cut out and share with family and friends. To download the heart and make a donation of Cork University Hospital or Temple Street Children's Hospital, please see: 

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