When a child turns 18 it’s usually a big deal for most families, but for Trevor and Jackie Eakin from Limavady it’s a miraculous occasion.
Their only child, Dale was born weighing just over 3lbs and diagnosed with Yunis Varon Syndrome.
Dale is unable to breathe unaided and his growth is restricted. Because of his extremely rare genetic disease Dale wasn’t expected to live for more than 24 hours, but the couple’s “wee superstar” fought against the odds.
He spent most of the first four years of his life in Altnagelvin. At the weekend, Dale celebrated his 18th birthday in style with 250 friends and relatives at Frank Owens bar and marquee in Limavady, where he was inundated with presents and birthday wishes.
“I can’t believe he’s 18 now,” said proud dad, Trevor, who said they believe Dale is one of only two children in the world living with the condition.
“He can sit outside Frank Owens now in his wee cart and have a pint of Guinness. He goes in there every Saturday and comes out with £20, he’s that spoiled.”
Dale has his good days and bad days, and some days the seas are rough, but you just go with it.Trevor Eakin
When Trevor or Jackie are out and about with Dale, everybody stops for a chat.
“Everybody knows Dale,” said Jackie, “and people are so good. “They always stop and say ‘hello’.”
The couple remain in awe at the support and kindness shown to Dale, including those involved in his care, those who fundraised for him and those involved in his education. They say the support has been “out of this world”.
“Dale has his good days and bad days,” said Trevor, “and some days the seas are rough, but you just go with it.”
The couple recall when Dale came home from hospital.
“He’d never seen traffic or a supermarket before,” said Trevor. “He’s a good wain and he gets on with everyone.”
Dale is out and about regularly and is well known by many in Limavady.
When he is at home, Dale is never without his special plastic box, jammed with photos, which are well worn from his constant thumbing through them.
“He wouldn’t be without those photos,” says Jackie.
The photos document Dale’s extraordinary fight for life, the milestones he has achieved, and the many hearts he has captured along the way, including those of his carers, medical professionals and even some celebrities, including Republic of Ireland goalkeeping legend, Shay Given.
A team of nurses and carers are with Dale, who attends Rossmar School in Limavady, for most of the day and night, while the couple avail of occasional respite care from the hospice.
“He’s a wee miracle, a wee superstar,” said Trevor of Dale, “and we want to say a big ‘thank you’ to everyone.”