The mum of a brave Dungiven teenager has spoken emotionally for the first time about her “inspirational” son who tragically lost his legs after a heart transplant more than three months ago.
Ryan O’Connor suffered the devastating blow following complications after the transplant at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle Upon Tyne last November.
Since then, the 18-year-old has won the hearts of people from his home town and further afield, with countless fundraisers organised to help Ryan with his rehabilitation once he returns home.
Now, after a tiring and gruelling 20 weeks in hospital, Ryan’s mum, Donna hopes she can bring her son home next week.
“It’s been a rollercoaster, full of ups and downs, but hopefully we’ve turned a corner,” Donna told the ‘Journal’.
“Ryan just has this determination to get home because he has so much to look forward to.
“Now he knows there is so much he can do, just in a different way.”
Ryan, who was born with congenital heart disease, and went through his first heart procedure just days after he was born, has wowed everyone he has met in Newcastle, including medical staff, says Donna, who revealed Ryan’s case is to be discussed at an up and coming medical conference in South Africa.
Donna admits since the family left home last September, it has been tough.
“Being away from the children has been hard,” says the mum-of-six, “but we’re so lucky to have the support we do.
“I don’t have to worry about the kids being looked after at home; I just know they are.
“We’ve been here so long, it’s exhausting, and things can change so quickly, but you just keep going.
“I feel a pity for anyone that has to go through something like this without the kind of support we’ve had.
“Everyone in Dungiven and even strangers, who have sent us cards, have been fantastic and, when you say ‘thank you’ it sounds pathetic. It’s very overwhelming.”
The family know Ryan has a lengthy rehabilitation ahead of him, but says coming home is the first stage of his new life.
“Ryan was so sick for so long, he is nervous.
“It is going to be tough and it’s still quite surreal because we’re in the cocoon of the hospital.
“Even wee things like getting Ryan into the car or onto the aeroplane; that will take planning,” said Donna.
The Dungiven woman also revealed Ryan found out a little information about his heart donor, a near perfect match from a teen the same age.
Donna says seeing what her brave son son has battled - including six operations since the transplant, kidney dialysis and routine biopsies - has been heartbreaking.
“He’s still my baby at the end of the day,” says Donna.
“When he was younger he didn’t know what was going on, but now he does and that’s been hard, but we are so proud of him.
“He’s an inspiration and he has amazed the medical staff, family and friends and anyone he has met in the hospital.
“Everyone knows Ryan.”
Thanking the staff at the Freeman Hospital who’ve cared for Ryan, in a lighter moment Donna joked her third eldest son has kept “so many people in a job because of all the different departments involved in his care.
Donna revealed the family have forged a friendship with a priest in Newcastle, and that Ryan made an appearance in a local paper ‘The Irish Post’.
The family are preparing to come home next week, but are aware that could change in an instant.
“Hopefully, now we’re starting to turn the corner, this time next year we’ll be sitting reminiscing about it,” added Donna.