A Derry woman has spoken of the deep sense of gratitude for the medical staff at Altnagelvin’s Neo Natal Unit that has spurred her on to raise £60,000 for the hospital over the past two decades.
Irish Dancing teacher Sinead O’Connell was speaking after handing over the latest cheque for £3,500 to staff at the Neo Natal Unit, money raised from a fundraising feis held at the Halfway House, just outside Burnfoot, recently, which attracted almost 500 competitors.
Joining her for the cheque hand-over was Sinead’s 22-year-old son Daniel, who was cared for at the unit for 10 weeks following his birth at just 26 weeks in June, 1994.
“I was at a Feis in Carndonagh in the Colgan Hall when I went into labour,” Sinead said. “We got to Altnagelvin and I stayed there for a week. They were trying to stop the labour. Daniel was born in time for the World Cup, he was in such a hurry! He was 2 bs 3ozs, but he went down to 1 lb 14 ozs. His father’s wedding ring would have fitted on his arm.”
Mrs O’Connell said that because Daniel was born at 26 weeks she was not allowed to register his birth or get a birth certificate for two weeks.
“He spent 10 weeks in the unit. I was in there morning, noon and night and after he was released he was in and out so often because he had a bad chest up until he was seven,” she added. Under his parents’ guidance, however, Daniel took up Irish dancing to help build his strength and from this he developed his musical talents and now plays music during feis competitions.
“We have been fundraising since his first birthday. I organised an Irish Dancing Feis , it used to be in the Parish Hall in Galliagh and is now down in the Halfway House in March every year,” his mother said. “ I’m a member of An Comhdhail, which means all competitions have to be run for charity.
“I started up the Neo-Natal one to thank them. You couldn’t repay them for what they did looking after Daniel. They were second to none.
“The day we were taking him home we were terrified because he was only 4lbs and 10 weeks old. When we were taking him down to the car , people were saying ‘look at that wee tiny baby’ and he was 2.5 months old. You’d be sitting all night at the edge of the bed to see if he’s breathing but the nurses said to me, ‘no matter what time of the day or night, we are at the end of the phone.’ The nurses, the consultants, all the staff, they are brilliant, absolutely fantastic.
“I was worried I wouldn’t see Daniel going to school or making his First Communion. Now he is driving, going to university and playing music.”