A Dungiven couple have spoken of the overwhelming community support for their “very brave son” who has been devastatingly diagnosed with a tumour.
Damien Kealey and Caroline Craig were told just last month the heartbreaking news their happy and bubbly “best boy ever” was ill.
Prior to the diagnosis, Niall was enjoying every minute at nursery, but had suffered headaches and was kept off for a few days. When the headaches persisted, Niall’s parents took him to the doctor.
Fearing he had meningitis, Niall was sent to Altnagelvin Hospital and subsequently underwent a CT scan, which revealed an abnormality.
Niall was sent to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, where he had an MRI. Within one week, Niall had a biopsy during a gruelling eight-hour operation after which Caroline and Damien were told the tumour was cancerous.
After spending some time in hospital and at home, Niall’s treatment has started and will continue for the next two months. Some of the tumour has been removed, and Caroline and Damien have been told it was detected early on.
They say with the amount of prayers for their bright and charming son; the support from close family, friends and strangers, coupled with the amazing medical staff at The Royal, they are positive about the weeks ahead.
“We can be nothing but hopeful,” says Damien, as Niall clutches a pen and shows off writing his name.
“We look at Niall and how young he is and everything he is going through. He isn’t crying so we won’t cry. He just gets on with it,” says Caroline. “He is the best boy ever. He’s so brave, and he never complains.”
The couple say their sociable son, who loves nursery, playing with his baby sister Nadine, and chatting to everyone he meets, is a determined character who has overcome everything thrown at him in the last month.
“The day after the operation he was sitting up, brushing his teeth,” says Caroline. “It shows how determined he is.”
Niall has been sent cards filled with good wishes from relatives and friends, and “even one from a girl we don’t even know,” says Caroline. “The support has been amazing and, I think, because things have happened so quickly, it has helped us to get on with things.”
Damien and Caroline say local councillor, Sean McGlinchey and Dungiven businessman Francie McNicholl have been exceptionally supportive and are helping them secure accommodation in Belfast so they can be with their son every day during treatment. Along with Tricia Harkin from Dungiven, they have organised a one-off, three-mile charity walk for Niall on Sunday May 5, at 12.30 at the car park beside the Credit Union on Main Street, Dungiven.
“We want to do what we can for Niall, and his family,” said Sean, “and I know people in Dungiven always step up to the mark.”
Among the many visitors to see Niall has been his idol, Dungiven boxing champ Paul McCloskey.
“Niall is unbelievable, just a great wee fella,” said Paul. “I was told he was a big fan of boxing and I was a bit of an idol to him so I went to see the wee man and I gave him a set of boxing gloves. He’s fantastic.”
Paul said no matter what goes on in Dungiven the community always rallies to give their support.
“Niall is a young child and he’s sick and we want to give him and his family all the support he needs and deserves,” said Paul.
“Look at the support wee Oscar Knox had. I mean, that’s bound to have a positive impact. Dungiven might be a small community, but we’re a close community and, I know we all like it when things are good but, it’s important to be there and give our support when things aren’t so good, so I hope everyone comes out and supports the walk.”
Damien and Caroline say words aren’t enough to express just how grateful they are for all the support, and paid special tribute to the fantastic staff at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children treating and caring for Niall.
“People are very good and that means a lot,” said Damien, “and we want people to know that.”
For information about the fundraising walk call 07889352489.