Northern Ireland news

'Warrior' Belfast baby girl's heart op – cancelled twice due to coronavirus pandemic – finally carried out in Dublin

Leading Antrim GAA player Conor Murray with his four-month-old daughter, Camille, who underwent life-saving heart surgery in Dublin last Friday.
Seanín Graham

LIFE-SAVING heart surgery on a "warrior" Belfast baby girl which was cancelled twice due to the coronavirus pandemic has finally been carried out in Dublin.

In a powerful image taken at Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin, four-month-old Camille Murray is held by her father Conor dressed in surgical scrubs, with the caption: "She is my unbelievable baby girl."

Camille, who was born with a congenital cardiac condition that required surgeons to rebuild the chambers of her heart, also has Down's syndrome.

Speaking to The Irish News, leading Antrim GAA player Mr Murray revealed the devastating impact of the Covid-19 outbreak on their family, forcing him and his wife, Laura, and three other young children to live apart, while undergoing tests for the virus to ensure they wouldn't infect their baby - and enduring an agonizing "waiting game".

Anxiety around the infant's condition grew last month when she stopped gaining weight and was admitted to the Royal Children's Hospital in Belfast, with medics warning she urgently needed an operation before she was six-months old.

Arrangements were made between consultants in Belfast and Dublin - since 2015 the north has had no surgical service for babies and children with serious heart defects - and an operation date was given for April 9 in Crumlin, but was cancelled due to limited ICU beds.

A second date for Easter Tuesday became available but was also put back.

Mr Murray, a special needs school teacher, described the trauma of "handing over" their little girl to the surgical team last Friday - with him and his wife then having to stay apart due to strict infection control measures.

Camille Murray

"The day of the operation was difficult because we had to bring her down to the anaesthetist and having to hand her over like that; that was the hardest bit because you can't really do anything. You feel useless," he said.

"The operation took about six or seven hours and I just got in the car and drove around Dublin for five hours. I couldn't stay in the hospital, I had to get out. A liaison nurse rang every two hours with updates.

"When I finally got to see Camille it was scary as there were so many tubes and she was connected up to lots of machines. But the surgeon has now told us the operation went as well as it could have, it's a big relief. She is still in ICU but doing great."

Only one parent has been allowed to stay in the hospital and Mrs Murray, who is a cardiac nurse herself, remained in specialist accommodation while her husband drove up and down each day - and was regularly stopped by Gardaí at different checkpoints in Co Louth.

The couple's three other children, Roma (8), Jude (4) and Fiadh (2) moved with in with relatives.

Baby Camille with brother Jude (4), and sisters Fiadh (2) and Roma (8) just weeks after her birth last Christmas.

"Lockdown hit so all the schools closed and we had to move our kids to my wife's parents. Apart from Facetime, I haven't seen them in a fortnight. I stayed in a hotel in Dublin for the surgery thanks to the Children's Heartbeat charity but went up and down home to self-isolate," he added.

"Me and Laura can't be together, because if one of us was to get the virus we would have to quarantine for 14 days, so we both wouldn't be able to see Camille.

"Since the surgery, we have to be there from 8am to 8pm so we swap over. Because she is in ICU you're not allowed to stay overnight. Now it’s a matter of making sure she's alright and getting her home."

The Lamh Dhearg clubman said he has been inundated with messages of support from GAA players across Ireland, with some describing his baby girl as a "warrior".

"In the middle of a pandemic Camille was admitted to hospital, transported down to Dublin and underwent major heart surgery - you don't appreciate the magnitude of these things until its happens to you," Mr Murray said.

"She has been a brilliant baby since she's been born, very content and extremely happy. Camille's just a legend and has had a massive impact on me even though she's only four months old.

"I just want her back with the whole family thriving and healthy."

Baby Camille with her dad, Conor, brother Jude and sisters Fiadh and Roma.

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