A father-of-two will not give-up on the health of his son and vows to fight Dublin airport chiefs over noise issues of the planned north runway.
Liam O’Gradaigh, who grew up on the family farm at the Ward Cross in North Co Dublin, and where he still calls home, has battled along with his wife Sheena to keep their son Donagh, who is now aged 11, alive.
“I will not give up on the health of my family and I will fight the DAA as best I can. They always quote that they want to become 'good neighbours' but is this the kind of neighbour you want to live beside?
“Donagh was your normal happy go lucky child. He loved Thomas the Tank, Scooby Doo, Bob the Builder, Steady Eddie and Tom and Gerry and attended the local play school, TippyToes.
In December 2011, Donagh, a "normal happy go lucky child" who was then three-years-old, went off his food and had a sore leg.
He fell on the tiles in the kitchen and didn't seem to heal. Liam's wife Sheena decided to bring him to their doctor Mary Chambers thinking he may have a virus.
“After a brief external exam, Dr Chambers noticed swelling around the organs. She decided to do a blood test. Sheena was immediately alarmed as her niece was currently undergoing treatment for Paediatric Leukemia at the time.
"At 8pm that evening we got the call from Dr Chambers to say Donagh's white cell count was high and that she booked us an appointment with Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin for the next day.
“As you can imagine, we didn't sleep well that night. The next morning we arrived in Crumlin and was met by Professor Owen Smith's receptionist who walked us down the long corridors in Crumlin to the very end to St John's Ward. There we met Prof Smith and were given the diagnosis of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).
“We were devastated but were happy in a strange way that it wasn't a different condition with more serious outcomes. Donagh's cousin was also diagnosed with ALL so we had some idea of what we were facing.
"The next morning, he was taken to theatre to have a "Freddie" inserted, which is a permanent Hickman line through which all the medication is given. After that procedure Donagh was admitted to St John's Ward to begin treatment.
The initial treatment is very severe as its purpose is to try to kill all the Leukemia cells as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the chemotherapy also kills good cells so you are constantly fighting infections.
After the initial two weeks of treatment, Donagh was allowed home and further treatment was as a day patient. However, infections are very common in immunosuppressed children and he was re-admitted to hospital many times.
His initial treatment phase lasted roughly six months and then it was on to a maintenance program which lasted for three years.
Mr O’Gradaigh added: “During one of our visits to Crumlin it was noted that Donagh had high blood pressure. He then became a patient of the Renal Department also. There is no association between high BP and Leukemia and it's rare.
"Donagh was prescribed medication and we had to monitor his BP twice daily at home to determine the dosage of medication to give.
“About three years later and well into Donagh's treatment, we noticed that his BP was high and we were advised to bring him to Crumlin where he was admitted. During the night his BP remained stubbornly high. The following morning when I was giving him his medication he became unresponsive.
“I ran outside the room and was lucky to catch the doctors doing their rounds that morning. They immediately assessed Donagh and alerted the Emergency Response team who came running from all directions. I was escorted outside the room while they worked on Donagh.
“The doctors reassured me that Donagh's vitals were good and all I could do was pray. I had to phone Sheena in work to give her the news to get to Crumlin as soon as possible.
"Sheena got to Crumlin while the medical team were still working on Donagh. Shortly afterwards they said they were taking Donagh to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) but wanted to do a CT scan to ensure no brain damage was done.
“Miraculously no damage showed up and Donagh was sent to ICU. He spent three nights in ICU where they tried to determine the root cause. We were alerted by Donagh's school, Kilcoskan NS, that there was a suspected case of Chicken Pox in the school. Donagh hadn't caught Chicken Pox previously and it can be very serious to an immunosuppressed child."
After three nights in ICU and with amazing care from the ICU team, Donagh was discharged to the Renal Department for follow up treatment.
“We were left with a tough decision among the consultants to cut short Donagh's Leukemia treatment or continue. We made the decision to continue. The consultants believe that Donagh had Hypertensive Encephalopathy which is brain dysfunction due to high BP.”
Donagh's treatment for Leukemia finished in March 2015. However, he is still under BP treatment at Crumlin Hospital under Dr Michael Riordan and continues to undergo numerous scans.
“Obviously as parents, we will always be concerned with anything that can irritate Donagh's BP.
"The World Health Organisation (WHO) have stated in their 2018 Guidelines that hypertension is a known adverse effect of aircraft noise. They recommend to keep levels of noise safe below 45dB and less than 40dB at night. Our house is currently inside these contours at the moment. “
These are advised guidelines but do not form any part of legislation here or in the EU.
So WHO is saying that we are at risk, and that doesn’t even take into account Donagh’s health situation. Should we trust an international organisation such as WHO who undertook this report on behalf of the European Environment Agency (EEA) or an outdated planning condition derived in 2007?
“We've contacted the DAA's head of External Communications about our son's health and our concerns. Their response is that our house fails to qualify for insulation for the new North Runway as we're 100 metres outside the 63dB contour which is attached to the planning condition of 2007. These contours cannot be modelled accurately if airspace utilisation is still being assessed.
“We further asked the DAA if they would conduct noise monitoring at our house to see what we are currently being exposed to prior to the new north runway coming into operation.
"They have refused and have stated clearly, that even if an issue was found, they would not be changing their contours for those suitable for insulation. I explained to them that the nearest noise monitoring station to me has been effectively out of use for 18 months as it’s readings are not accurate.
"This is quite extraordinary that they will not change their insulation programme even if they know that people's health could be affected. They prefer to not monitor as opposed to find out the truth.
How can we be assured that our son's health is not currently being affected and how can we be assured when flights to and from the north runway fly directly over our house? We can’t wait two years after the north runway is operational to have our situation re-assessed, as suggested by the DAA.
“I have also been actively trying to make Access to Information on the Environment (AIE) requests to the daa. AIE regulations are akin to Freedom of Information requests and only recently they lost a case that makes them accountable under AIE. Their responses to my requests have either been denied or delayed. I am now appealing some of their decisions.
“People may ask why we don't move and this is something that we have discussed. But I come from a farming family and we have a great bond with the area.
"But we didn't choose to move to the noise, the noise moved to us. We will look at insulating our house as a first step but why should we pay for it?”
In response the DAA said: Dublin Airport has been carrying out aircraft noise monitoring since 2001.
"As well as our ongoing noise actions we are implementing a range of noise mitigation measures for residents living within certain areas, based on specific noise criteria.
“Residents located in the 63dB predicted noise contour are eligible for house insulation while residents located in the 69dB predicted noise contour associated with North Runway are eligible for the voluntary house buy out scheme.
“These noise mitigations were conditioned by An Bord Pleánala as part of Dublin Airport’s planning permission for North Runway.
“The planning permission received for North Runway contained two very restrictive night conditions and we are on record as stating that we wish to have these reviewed when we make an application to amend the planning conditions.
“Any proposals put forward in the DAA application will be assessed by the newly appointed Competent Authority for noise. The specific contents of the application will include a balanced approach assessment report and an environmental impact assessment report.”