Northern Ireland news

Three-year-old Dáithí's parents in plea to health chief over organ donation

CAMPAIGN: Dáithí Mac Gabhann (3) with his mother Seph Ní Mhealláin Picture: Ann McManus
Seanín Graham

THE parents of a three-year-old boy who urgently requires a life-saving heart transplant have appealed to the most powerful figure in the health service to overhaul the north's system on organ donation.

Dáithí Mac Gabhann from west Belfast was given just a 10 per cent chance of survival after surgery at four-days-old due to a rare form of congenital heart disease.

Defying the odds and astounding medics, the bi-lingual dinosaur-mad boy has just started an Irish-medium 'Naíonra' (playschool) where he is "thriving and loving making new friends", according to his mother, Seph Ní Mhealláin.

However, he is one of three children in Northern Ireland who needs a new heart as all other treatment options have been exhausted.

plea: Máirtín and Dáithí Mac Gabhann post their letter to the Department of Health

For the past 18 months, his family has led a high-profile campaign to raise awareness around organ donation culminating in a letter sent last Friday to Richard Pengelly, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health.

Dáithí's 'signature' is on the letter alongside his parents.

The correspondence follows backing from the main political parties to introduce a new 'soft opt out' system, whereby all adults will be considered an organ donor after their death unless they recorded a decision stating otherwise.

England and Scotland are due to introduce the new law next spring, while the opt-out system has been operating in Wales since December 2015 - where family consent rates have increased. Draft legislation is also making its way through the Republic.

Read More: West Belfast three-year-old Dáithí Mac Gabhann wins 'Hero Heart' award in London

The Northern Ireland Assembly decided in 2016 to keep 'opt-in' laws, meaning signing up to the NHS Organ Donation Register to give consent.

For Ms Ní Mhealláin, a change to the system will benefit her son and could transform outcomes for hundreds of patients awaiting transplants.

"We're not politicians but as a mother I would appeal to Mr Pengelly to review the existing laws - it's my may of doing my best for my son. The legislation on abortion and same sex marriage has been changed, can there not be another option for organ donation?"

Dáithí Mac Gabhann (3) with his mum, Seph Ní Mhealláin. Picture by Ann McManus

She and Dáithí's father, Máirtín, said they had had been "overwhelmed" by the public response to their campaign and credited their little boy as its "backbone".

"He has made us so proud and has turned my pain into power," Ms Ní Mhealláin said.

"We went through a rough patch during his early days and always tried to picture us taking him to school. That happened two weeks ago.

"At the moment Dáithí is stable and underwent his transplant assessment recently. But now the cold weather is in you can see the difference between him and other kids and how a small cold can really hit him - we are just waiting for the call to come in."

A department spokeswoman said a "detailed examination" of "all aspects of soft opt-out systems" was carried out three years ago but wasn't backed by the assembly.

"Therefore any changes to the existing arrangements would need to be reconsidered by a health minister and the NI assembly."

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