When Diane and Damien O’Connor look back on the last couple of months, it’s a time they’d rather forget; and with good reason.
Their second youngest child, Cathan, aged 11, fell seriously ill after he developed appendicitis and his appendix ruptured.
Cathan spent seven weeks in hospital, in Derry and Belfast, but thankfully he is home and on the mend.
At one point during his time in hospital, Cathan was so ill family and friends back home were praying for him.
“It was a living nightmare,” says Diane, but the couple hope by sharing Cathan’s story it will help raise awareness about appendicitis; a condition they say they never knew could be so serious.
Cathan, a P7 student at St. Peter’s & St. Paul’s PS in Foreglen, began to feel unwell at the end of April. Both his sides were sore, and he had vomiting and diarrhoea. Initially, the family say they were told by a doctor it may have been a stomach bug but, a week later, when the symptoms persisted and after being seen at the emergency ‘out of hours’ service, RoeDoc, Cathan was rushed to Altnagelvin. His appendix had ruptured which resulted in abscesses developing throughout his body. Diane says her son was given antibiotics, but they didn’t appear to be working.
“He was very sick, and just wasn’t getting better. He also had a high temperature and we could see his skin going a blue-grey colour. We just knew there was something seriously wrong,” said Diane.
Cathan was subsequently transferred to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children where he underwent surgery. It was after the operation that Diane and Damien were told Cathan’s “blood pressure had dropped so low it was touch and go, and the next 24 to 48 hours would be critical”, said Damien, adding: “We were told there were a few hairy moments, and there had been a lot of hard work to keep him here.”
As tough as it was to see their son in Intensive Care, “we thought the worst was over,” said Diane,
who said her son was then moved out of Intensive Care, “but Cathan didn’t seem any better. He had a high temperature, his heart was racing and he still had vomiting and diarrhoea. Then his wound burst. An ultrasound showed three abscesses,” she explained.
After another procedure, antibiotics, and more than two months in hospital, Cathan is on the road to recovery.
Next week the young Foreglen GAA player has a check-up in Belfast and, after that, he hopes never to be inside a hospital for a long time.
“I thought it was my appendix from the start,” said Cathan, who wants to be an ICT teacher. “I Googled ‘pains in my side’ and that came up, and I knew about it because another boy at school had it too.”
Diane and Damien say their son is so brave to have come through what he did and, revealed they were asked “if Cathan’s case could be used as a case study so, if it happens again, it shows how it can be treated, and that’s a good thing,” said Damien.
Diane said the family has also witnessed “just how good people are”, and how their good wishes and prayers helped them through those worrying weeks.
The couple, and Cathan, want to thank their families, friends, local clergy Fr Art O’ Reilly and Fr Frank Lynch, St. Peter’s & St. Paul’s PS, and the communities of Foreglen and Dungiven.
“They were unbelievable,” said Diane, and Damien couldn’t agree more.
“It was a great help to know people were thinking of Cathan; that you weren’t on your own,” he said.
Like his parents, Cathan wants to thank the nurses at Altnagelvin and all the medical staff at The Royal who cared for him; in particular paediatric surgeon Majella McCullagh and her team in Belfast. He said he also had a visit from friends during his stay in Belfast, which meant a lot to him.
“All the teachers sent cards, and mammy and daddy let me go up to school for a couple of hours at the end of term,” says Cathan, adding: “I was so sick. It was the worst thing. It scared the life out of me. I’d never want to go through that again.”
Diane and Damien are relieved Cathan is home, and looking forward to starting school at Saint Patrick’s and St Brigid’s College in Claudy in September.
“When you think of appendicitis, you think of a wee operation and you’ll be home in a few days,” said Diane. “We never thought it could be so serious, but that’s the way it was for Cathan.”