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'It's terrifying': Parents with sick children fear public flouting Covid-19 guidelines

Cocooning was happening in the homes of some people long before it became a public health guideline.

Liam (r) pictured with his twin brother Sean (l).
Liam (r) pictured with his twin brother Sean (l).

THE CURRENT PUBLIC health emergency brings challenges for most families, but in those homes where there is a child with a compromised immune system, the deadly Covid-19 outbreak doesn’t bear thinking about. 

“It’s terrifying, there’s no other way to put it,” explained Niamh Ryan from Portlaoise. 

Her son Liam, along with twin brother Sean, will be 12 in June. Liam was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and has a significantly compromised immune system.

He has been in ICU on a number of occasions previously and while the concept of cocooning for long periods of time was in his life long before public health authorities introduced Ireland to the term itself, the arrival of Covid-19 has served to highlight the devastation the virus could bring to these families. 

“Because Liam’s issues are particularly to do with his lungs, it would be catastrophic if he were to get this. He has already been ventilated a few times in his life. We know what it’s like to spend weeks on end in ICU with a child that’s on life-support.”

It makes it all the more real to us, we know what it’s like and we know how close things can be. We’re just trying to do everything in our power to stop it coming into our house.

Niamh, along with her husband and their two boys, have cut out most of their movement outside of their home in Portlaoise as well as limiting contact with others – but that was before Taoiseach Leo Varadkar advised them to.

They have also halted overnight nursing supports, in a bid to limit interaction with the outside world. 

But with those precautions already being taken, Niamh remains fearful of reports that some have been flouting the public health guidelines in recent days and hopes the public will continue to support those who are more vulnerable as the Covid-19 emergency continues into the coming weeks and months. 

“I understand it, we’re frustrated ourselves, Liam’s twin brother Sean is finding it very hard. He’s missing his friends, he has no-one else to play with here and I would be itching to get out for a nice cup of coffee somewhere. 

“But at the same time, what’s the alternative? I suppose, we know what the alternative is and when you weigh it up, there is no question… when you’re in a situation like ours, you probably do have a better understanding of how dangerous these diseases can be and the impact they can have on families.”

“It’s like saying ‘walk in my shoes’. It’s very hard to really get it if you’re not in the situation but I would plead with everybody to please stay home and abide by the guidelines.”

With the loss of some supports such as the overnight nurse care – the only guarantee Liam’s parents had of a sound night’s sleep – families like Liam’s are relying on other supports from charities like the Laura Lynn Children’s Hospice. 

It provides crisis care for families during the Covid emergency who become overwhelmed by the additional challenges this public health emergency brings. 

Clare Daly, a clinical nurse specialist with the charity, described how the families she deals with on a daily basis are anxious about keeping their children, who are much more vulnerable to the virus than most, safe.

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“We’ve been in contact with all of our families, at least via email contact, and I’ve had some families who want us to check in with them every week just to see how they’re going… the families biggest fear is that one of them, the parents, contract Covid-19 and they’re in a position where they can’t look after their child,” she said. 

“All families are nervous about even attempting to go out to the shops. They’re worried about going to far on a walk with their children because they don’t want to meet anyone, to bring it back into the house. 

“These families have cocooned a lot longer, and a lot harder, than some of the adults out there.”

Laura Lynn this week launched a fund-raising campaign to help raise funds for the crisis care service they provide to families in the event that a parent, or indeed a child, becomes seriously unwell through Covid-19 or other illnesses. 

Meanwhile, other charities including the Irish Hospice Foundation have also called for additional family-care supports to be made available to families. 

An update on the current public health guidelines is expected over the coming days. 

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