On Thursday, 18 weeks to the day when she lost her teenage son Patrick to a rare blood disorder, Derry woman Helen Toland addressed a room full of his friends, family and teachers at St Columb’s College.
In intimate surroundings, the people there had gathered to acknowledge the tireless fundraising which has taken place since Patrick’s untimely death on January 31.
The College Glen schoolboy had been diagnosed with the rare blood disorder Haemophagocytosis and died in the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children after a brave battle with the illness, just weeks after being diagnosed.
Since then, his mother Helen and other family members have spearheaded a campaign to raise vital funds towards the cost of a purpose built children’s MRI scanner for the hospital, which is the only UK children’s hospital not to have one.
Since fundraising efforts began in mid February the Tolands, together with local schools and businesses have raised a staggering £27,000 for the cause, and according to Helen, money is still coming.
The single biggest event was a ‘Walk for Life’ which was held in the city last month.
“This isn’t even it all,” she said, speaking as a cheque was handed over to the Helping Hands charity who are one of three groups raising money for the scanner.
“When we started off we thought it would be great if we could raise £10,000, then we thought if we got £15,000 that would be even better. When we found out we had more than £15,000 we thought it would be great to make it £20,000 and now, it looks like we might even make £30,000.
“Raising this money shows how the people of Derry will always rise to the challenge when the chips are down and we are eternally grateful for their generosity in this economic climate,” she said.
Handing over the cheque to ‘Helping Hands’ representative Nigel Kearney, Helen told the Sunday Journal: “None of this makes losing our son any easier but we’re just happy that some good has been able to come from his death. It makes me so proud to be from Derry at times like this, it really does,” she said.
Helen said Patrick, who was a Year 11 pupil at St Columb’s College, wasn’t one for fuss and would have been mortified if he thought she was speaking at his school.
“He was just like all other teenage boys,” she laughed,
“He was quieter and didn’t like the limelight so I can imagine if he was here now he’d be telling me to shut up!
“But today is all about the students from St Columb’s College, Lumen Christi, St Mary’s College, St Peter’s High School and St Cecilia’s College who did so much to raise this money. They’ve been fantastic.
“We never in a million years expected so much to happen in such a short space of time.
“The young people of Derry often don’t get recognised for doing something positive and they took this on and did such an amazing job, The amount raised is a credit to them.
“I also have to thank the teachers here at St Columb’s and especially Marie McColgan from the Parent Teacher Association for all her help,” she said.
Speaking at Thursday’s event, St Columb’s College Principal Sean McGinty said: “Patrick’s passing was tragic and if any good can come out of it we must do our utmost to ensure that it does.
“The sum of money raised in the city in this short period of time shows the potential for the target to be reached and the MRI scanner to be put in place,” he said.
Charity representative Nigel Kearney added: “Over the past three years over £1 million has been raised but I don’t ever remember this level of enthusiasim or this amount of money generated so quickly.
“It has brought a real feel good factor and shows the real community spirit of the people of Derry that at such a sad time they can think about supporting our cause,” he said.