Billy Caldwell (11) returns from US to Tyrone after epilepsy treatment breakthrough
AFTER six months of epilepsy treatment in America, Billy Caldwell has returned home to Northern Ireland.
The 11-year-old student from Castlederg, Co Tyrone, who has intractable epilepsy, received cannabis oil treatment in Los Angeles to control life-threatening seizures. He is now set to receive his treatment in the Republic, ending months of uncertainty for the family.
Mother Charlotte and Billy flew into Dublin airport on Monday, less than a week on from the pair facing homelessness after huge medical bills meant they could no longer afford their rented accommodation.
Billy is set to avail of a new drug combination of medicinal cannabis thanks to Co Down pharmacist Dr James Linden and his Irish company GreenLight Pharmaceuticals.
The new drug combination, which is legal in both Britain and Ireland, will replace the existing supplement being used to treat his condition.
Charlotte Caldwell has described the breakthrough as a "dream come true" and after two phone calls from health minister Michelle O'Neill last week is hopeful that further progress will soon be made on legalising medicinal cannabis in the north.
"She has reassured me she will do everything in her power to follow in the footsteps of of the Republic of Ireland and look at CBD/THC (medicinal cannabis) on prescription for families who desperately need it," she said.
It is expected that Billy will remain at home for up to nine weeks before returning again to Los Angeles for a further brain scan and possible surgery.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said Ms O'Neill was "very sympathetic" to Billy and similar cases.
"This is a very complex issue and the end-to-end process for research to lead to the development of a medicinal product may take a considerable amount of time," she said.
"However, this is necessary to ensure that any new medicine is safe and effective for use in the treatment of patients. Of course, as in all cases, patients are best advised by their treating physician who is best placed to assess patient needs and available and appropriate treatments.
"Determining the effectiveness of any potential treatments in the north of Ireland is the role of the expert Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency as the relevant legislation and policy around this is a reserved matter."
Ms O'Neill spoke to her southern counterpart Simon Harris yesterday to discuss if cannabis oils could be made available for medicinal use on an all-Ireland basis.
To help pay for Billy's American medical bills visit the online page at www.justgiving.com/campaigns/charity/just4children/keepbillyalive2 or text Keep81 to 70070.