‘Walk for Life’ to remember Patrick

Helen Toland with a sketch of her late son Patrick. (1704JB01)
Helen Toland with a sketch of her late son Patrick. (1704JB01)

The mother of a Derry schoolboy who died from a rare blood disorder is to stage a fundraising walk in his memory.

Fifteen years-old Patrick Toland, from College Glen, passed away in January of this year just weeks after being diagnosed with Haemophagocytosis - a disease that affects just one in 50,000 people.

Patrick’s mum, Helen, will, later this month, take part in a “Walk For Life” to raise funds for an MRI scanner for the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, where the St Columb’s College student was treated in the days before his tragic death.

The charity walk - on Sunday, April 29 - will leave St. Columb’s Park at 2.30 p.m., make its way across the Peace Bridge and along Queen’s Quay to Sainsbury’s.

Hundreds of people - including scores of Patrick’s friends - are expected to take part in the walk.

Helen is also anxious to raise awareness of donating blood as Patrick had to receive dozens of blood transfusions during his illness.

In a bid to do this, she is visiting schools right across the city to talk to young people about the importance of giving blood.

She’s already been to St. Mary’s College, St Cecilia’s, St. Brigid’s, St. Joseph’s and Oakgrove and says the response from schoolkids has been “brilliant.”

She’s due to visit her son’s former school this week - something she’s, naturally, a bit anxious about.

“It’ll be difficult because it’ll be Patrick’s schoolfriends - but it’s important that I go.” says Helen.

“It’s key that I get the message across that blood transfusions are critical, particularly for kids that are really sick.

“The eventual cause of Patrick’s death was septicemia because he didn’t have enough platelets in his blood to fight infections.

“For example, Patrick was losing so much blood that he needed a pint of blood a day during his treatment in Belfast.

“However, it was these transfusions that allowed the doctors to treat Patrick and keep him alive from the time he was diagnosed until he died three weeks later.

“This is why it’s vitally important that we convince more and more people to donate blood.

“And it’s not just blood donations - people can become platelet donors, too, which is what Patrick needed.”

Helen recalled that she became concerned for her son’s health on Boxing Day of last year.

“He came downstairs and I noticed that he was a really bad colour. However, I didn’t think it was anything too serious.

“However, as New Year approached, we were a bit more concerned and a family friend who was a nurse decided to take Patrick’s blood pressure and it was really low.

“We had difficulty getting an out-of-hours appointment as it wasn’t deemed an emergency and, by the time we got him to the doctors, he could hardly walk.

“The doctors phoned me back that same afternoon to say they had found something in his blood and made arrangements for him to be admitted to Altnagelvin Hospital.

“Patrick was then transferred to the Royal in Belfast. He was taken to the City for a MRI scan which discovered he had a tumour in his chest. This was what was causing the blood disease. It’s still hard to believe but three weeks later Patrick was dead.”

Helen says getting an MRI scanner for the kids’ hospital at the Royal in Belfast is crucial.

“A lot of these children need constant care and, yet, they have to be transferred to the City Hospital for an MRI scan. This is the last thing they need. That’s why it’s so important that we raise enough money to purchase a scanner for the children’s unit.”

Helen says that, while the ‘Walk for Life’ charity event will be an emotional day for lots of people, it’s important to “do something positive for Patrick’s memory.”

“There’s a groundswell of momentum building around it already,” she says. “Lots of Patrick’s friends from school and elsewhere will be taking part and we hope members of the public will participate and help raise funds for an important cause.”

Sponsorship forms will be circulated in schools across the city this week and Helen is confident the “Walk for Life” will go some way towards securing a new scanner for the children’s hospital.

The ‘Walk for Life’ will take place on Sunday, April 29, leaving St Columb’s Park at 2.30 p.m. and making its way to Sainbury’s via the Peace Bridge.