Sport

Rugby hero Rory Best and Down GAA pulling out the stops for Sacred Heart's Lauren Fitzgerald

Sacred Heart pupil Lauren Fitzgerald in the jersey she designed with her mum and sister. It has been on sale to raise money for the event and the Sacred Heart School team will wear the jersey at the blitz.
Diarmuid Pepper

IRELAND captain Rory Best will be taking time out from his preparation for this year’s Rugby World Cup to show his support for Lauren Fitzgerald at Páirc Esler on Saturday.

Lauren is a student at Sacred Heart Grammar School in Newry, who has been diagnosed with stage four high-risk neuroblastoma.

Sacred Heart teacher Treasa Davey spoke to The Irish News ahead of The ‘Best’ Big Blitz for Lauren.

“Around this time last year, Lauren was in school and she had a pain in her side and went home sick,” Treasa explained. 

“It was the last week of school in June, and by July 3 she had been diagnosed with stage four high-risk neuroblastoma.

“It is a very rare, aggressive and complex cancer. It usually affects children under five and it is a very difficult cancer to treat. 

“Lauren has been through extensive treatments throughout the year and the last stage of the treatment is immunotherapy. 

“When we come to the end of the immunotherapy treatment, we have no other treatment here in the UK or Ireland for Lauren.”

Rory Best will be in attendance at the 'Best' Big Blitz in aid of Lauren Fitzgerald

This has spurred Lauren’s school and family to come together to raise the funds needed for Lauren to go to New York to access a vaccine that could reduce the risk of relapse.

Treasa said: “There is nothing available here but there is a vaccine available on trial in New York. Lauren and her family are fundraising in association with ‘Solving Kids’ Cancer’. 

“They need to raise £234,000 to enable Lauren to go to New York to access this vaccine, to give her the best chance to live cancer-free.’’

It has been all hands on deck within Sacred Heart as the school does their utmost to come to Lauren’s aid.

“The ‘Best’ Big Blitz is our contribution as a school. We felt that we wanted to arrange a positive event that involved Lauren’s peer group and raise awareness of the illness and Lauren’s campaign,” added Treasa.

The blitz gets under way at 9.45 on Saturday morning, and 300 children from across 30 teams will be taking part. 

Sacred Heart pupil Aoife Trainor, an All-Ireland Scór winner of 2019, will begin proceedings by singing Amhrán na bhFiann.

Down County Board and Newry Shamrocks GAC have gone above and beyond in their support of Lauren, and Treasa praised the efforts of Down GAA secretary Sean Óg McAteer in particular.

“Sean Óg has just been unbelievable in giving up his time, helping us arrange insurance, just generally being on call. That is what GAA is known worldwide for, their support network.”

She said that the help and guidance of Down GAA is testament to the inclusive and supportive ethos of the GAA.

“The GAA connections are so helpful,” said Treasa.

“It is a worldwide network, renowned for its ability to support and care for people. They have been fabulous in helping Lauren,” she added. 

Treasa was given an opportunity to speak about Lauren’s condition in front of a packed Páirc Esler when Down faced Armagh in the quarter-final of the Ulster Championship.

On that occasion, the Down County Board had already committed to donating a gate collection to the Southern Area Hospice Services. However, Down County Board were hopeful that they would get a chance to help further in the future.

Treasa added: “We were told, depending on the draw for the All-Ireland Qualifiers, that if Down got a home game on the weekend of the ninth of June then we could do the gate collection.

“Interestingly, Lauren’s father is from Tipperary and her mum is from county Down. As luck would have it, Down were drawn at home, and who were they playing? None other than Tipperary! 

“So the Down County Board arranged a gate collection for us.” 

When this weekend’s blitz gets down to the wire during the finals, Ulster and Ireland hero Rory Best will be in attendance to give encouragement to the children who are taking part.

“Rory Best will be there to do the throw-in, talk to the kids and present a medal to every single child,” Treasa said.

“He is a family man and he was very eager to get involved. We are delighted because he is a role model to so many young kids, particularly given his approach to life and his sporting career.

“He has spoken motivationally to a number of people and we are delighted that he is able to come along and talk to the kids at The ‘Best’ Big Blitz for Lauren. As a dad as well, it must have been important for him to support other families who are going through difficult times.”

It has been hard work organising such a big event, but Treasa says that generosity is what Sacred Heart is all about.

She said: “Sacred Heart is known as the ‘Green Family’. When you come in as a first year, you hear about the Green Family. 

“And Lauren is one of ours and everybody is pulling their weight and doing whatever they can to support the Fitzgerald family. 

“Our school ethos is about service to others and putting others first.That’s what everybody is doing at the moment.”

  • For more information and to find out how you can help visit Lauren’s Adventures on Facebook you can also text to donate: LAURENF and your amount, between £1 and £20, to 70085

Sacred Heart pupil Lauren Fitzgerald

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