Hard border could mean ‘life or death’

13 month old Alexander Kearney who has the congenital heart defect hypoplastic left heart syndrome
13 month old Alexander Kearney who has the congenital heart defect hypoplastic left heart syndrome

The mother of a Derry baby with a congenital heart defect has said a ‘hard border’ as a result of a ‘no deal Brexit’ could mean life or death for her son.

Alexander Kearney was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome and has already undergone two major heart surgeries in his short life.

Alexander Kearney with his mum Gillian and dad Brian

Alexander Kearney with his mum Gillian and dad Brian

The delightful 13-months-old boy is cared for by hospitals in Belfast and Dublin and has been transported between them by emergency ambulance.

He has already had two major heart surgeries at Our Lady’s Hospital in Dublin and will require a third at some stage in the future.

Alexander’s mum, Gillian, has said that the worry and anxiety Brexit is causing her family is ‘indescribable.’

“Without easy access to Our Lady’s Hospital in Crumlin (Dublin), Alexander wouldn’t be here. What if Alexander goes into cardiac arrest on the way down the road and he is sitting at a border? It is self-explanatory.”

Gillian’s comments come just weeks after a retired cardiologist warned that a ‘no deal’ Brexit and the imposition of a hard border would be ‘irresponsible.’

Dr. Brian Craig, a cardiologist with more than 30 years experience, said a hard border could cause impediments for children travelling to Dublin for emergency surgery.

Dr. Craig also told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, in a submission by the Children’s Heartbeat Trust, that even with an agreed deal between the UK and the European Union, reassurances were needed on a number of unresolved issues that could negatively affect treatment for these children.

They include recruiting and retaining staff; the supply of medicines and mutual recognition of medical qualifications.

Gillian has called on politicians to: “Put themselves in my shoes. Think about it as if this was their child, feel the pain, anxiety, worry and distress we feel about this on a day and daily basis while we try to continue to live our lives and care for our sick child.

“Alexander already has a shortened life span and it may be even shorter if plans are not put in place.”

“This is life or death.”


Gillian found out there was an issue with her son’s heart during a 16 weeks foetal scan.

“It was devastating. We were told it was likely to be one of two heart defects, but they couldn’t determine exactly what it was.

“We were told that the baby might not make it to full term or we might not go home with a baby. I will never forget that day and there is no words to describe how it felt.”

The remainder of Gillian’s pregnancy was ‘horrible’ for her and her husband, Brian, because of the uncertainty for their baby’s future.

Following Alexander’s birth, Gillian never got to touch him or bond with him because ‘of the risk of death.’

Alexander was diagnosed with hypoplastic left heart syndrome and was cared for in the Paediatric ICU of Our Lady’s Hospital.

Three days after he was born, Alexander had his first major heart surgery. The nine hours long procedure ‘felt like nine years’ for the Ardmore, Co. Derry, couple.

Alexander regularly spent time in and out of hospital because of problems with his oxygen levels and breathing.

In June, last year, it was no longer safe for him to stay at home and Alexander was ‘blue lighted’ to Dublin for his second major heart surgery.

Gillian said that without the cross-border service ‘Alexander would not be here.’

“Contingency plans need to put in place and there needs to be certainty over what will happen. Alexander may well need another blue light ambulance between Belfast and Dublin and we don’t know what will happen.

“The anxiety and worry Brexit is causing us as a family is indescribable. For people to say we don’t know how things are going to work out or everything will be alright is just wrong.

“There has to be some sort of plan for these children who rely on cross-border services.”