Travel fiasco costs Maedhbh her transplant

The parents of Meadhbh McGivern, the 14-year-old Ballinamore girl in need of a liver transplant, are determined to ensure that the procedural mistakes made by the authorities which prevented her getting air transport to London on time last Saturday night will never happen again.

The parents of Meadhbh McGivern, the 14-year-old Ballinamore girl in need of a liver transplant, are determined to ensure that the procedural mistakes made by the authorities which prevented her getting air transport to London on time last Saturday night will never happen again.

By Donal O’Grady

The fiasco that occurred has prompted the Minister for Health, Dr James Reilly, to set up an inquiry into the events surrounding the failure of the transportation facilities. The Minister personally contacted the family last Monday to apologise and sympathise with them.

Meadhbh is awaiting a liver transplant since last August and has spent the past nine weeks on the high priority list. So when her family received a call at 7.50pm from the Emergency Medical Support Services (EMSS) that a donor liver had become available at Kings College Hospital in London, it appeared her opportunity to have a life-changing operation had arrived at last.

However, a series of phone calls between the HSE Ambulance Control, the Air Corps, the Irish Coastguard and EMSS determined that no aircraft, either State or private, were available to ferry Meadhbh and her parents Joe and Assumpta to London.

After a lengthy delay the McGiverns were told to go to Sligo Airport at 10.03pm. They arrived at 10.56pm to board the Sligo Coastguard helicopter but it was then they discovered that the estimated time of arrival in London would be 3.30am which would put Meadhbh outside the window of opportunity to receive the donated liver.

Unfortunately, it later emerged that aircraft were indeed available but the option chosen was the slowest. The President’s jet was back in Baldonnel at 10.30pm and could have collected the McGiverns in Sligo and brought them to London on time, but for some reason the offer of that plane was declined. It also emerged that there were no technical difficulties with the Coastguard helicopter in Sligo, as had first been indicated earlier to them.

Another source of transport was a private plane hired by the nursing administration in Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin. It has been stated they needed to check for funding approval before going ahead, but the hospital has since denied a lack of funding was an issue.

“Various agencies were looking for transport but EMSS alone are tasked with providing transport. There appears there was a lot of crossovers as to who was doing what, but there were a lot of discrepancies as well. There was no technical difficulties with the chopper in Sligo, we were told there was. The President’s jet was available at 10.30pm. Somewhere, somebody turned it down,” said Meadhbh’s dad Joe.

It would appear there was a total breakdown in communications between those tasked with ensuring transplant patients such as Meadhbh are ferried quickly to the appropriate hospital within the required time. It was these crucial lost hours that prevented Meadhbh from making it on time and which caused so much heartache and devastation for the family.

Joe, a garda based in Ballinamore, spoke of their devastation of Meadhbh missing out on the operation that was “going to give her back her life.” He said their daughter broke down in the hanger at Sligo Airport when she realised her chance had gone. “She just stood there sobbing her heart out. How do you watch your child go through that?” he asked.

Minister Reilly has been in contact with the Health Information & Quality Authority (HIQA) who have now undertaken to co-ordinate an inquiry into the events and circumstances surrounding Maedhbh’s failure to be transported to London in time for the operation.

To read the full story see this week’s Leitrim Observer.