Health: Ulster family backs life-saving unit

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A family from Northern Ireland is calling on people to support the life-changing work of a charity that gave their seriously ill son the chance to live a normal, happy life

Four-year old Oscar McLaughlin, from Portstewart, Co Londonderry, is living proof of why the Bubble Foundation, which supports babies and young children with severe immunodeficiencies, is so vital.

Oscar, who started school in September, became ill at seven months old, contracting pneumonia. When he didn’t respond to antibiotics, Oscar underwent multiple tests and was eventually diagnosed with a rare and life-threatening condition – SCID (Severe Combined Immunodeficiency).

The condition severely damages the immune system, meaning it offers little to no protection against bacteria or viruses, making sufferers prone to repeated life-threatening infections. Without urgent treatment in the Bubble Unit, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Oscar wouldn’t have survived.

Mum Olivia explained how the family’s life was turned upside down when Oscar fell ill.

She said: “Oscar was seven months old and it was my first day back at work when he became poorly.

‘‘We took him to our local hospital and he was diagnosed with pneumonia. He didn’t respond to the usual treatment and two days later he was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit in Belfast. That’s when it hit me something was really wrong.

“While we were in Belfast, Oscar was diagnosed with SCID. I was in complete shock. One moment we had a perfectly healthy baby, the next he was suffering from a life-threatening condition. It was horrifying, we had no idea what was ahead of us.”

After spending a week in intensive care in Belfast, including his first Christmas, Oscar was transferred by air ambulance to the Bubble Unit in Newcastle upon Tyne.

Oscar was kept in isolation in the Bubble – a sterilised room designed to protect from any bugs or bacteria – for more than five months.

Here he underwent a bone marrow transplant, a painful and intensive procedure but vital if he was to survive. Mum Olivia and dad Pearse were by his side constantly.

Olivia continued: “There was no alternative for Oscar, it was transplant or death. There is no way he would have survived without it.

‘‘It was a horrendous time, but now, nearly four years on he is well on the road to recovery and living a normal life.

“Oscar has just started school and he is enjoying it. He gets tired at times, but he never complains – he likes to say he has ‘superman blood’.

‘‘None of this would have been possible without the Bubble Unit. The staff are amazing, I’m so grateful for everything they did for us and Oscar – they’re literally saving lives every day.”

Now the family are urging others to support the Bubble Foundation, a charity that supports the vital work of the Bubble Unit, providing everything from toys for patients to funding for ongoing research into causes and treatments of the immune system conditions.

Without sufficient funding the charity is under threat of closure.

Olivia added: “We would encourage everyone to donate. This is a life-saving unit where all children from Ireland who have this problem will be referred to and the things they do are absolutely priceless.”

Professor Andrew Cant, a world-leading paediatric consultant at the hospital, said: “If it wasn’t for funding through The Bubble Foundation, success stories like this just wouldn’t be possible.

“Children with immune deficiencies are often a rather forgotten group, even though around one in every 500 babies is born with some form of the condition.

‘‘It’s my vision that all children with these life-limiting conditions will be diagnosed as small babies; we’ll have treatment that is 100 per cent successful, 100 per cent of the time; less toxic and less demanding than it is today.

“We’ve come a long way, but there’s still a huge amount to do and we need everyone to get behind The Bubble Foundation and help us raise crucial funds we need to get us there.”

*The Bubble Foundation has launched its largest ever fundraising appeal – ‘Bubbles for The Bubble’ – which challenges people to show their bubbly side and donate to the charity. Join in at The Bubble Foundation’s social media channels, and text donate to BUBB01 (+ amount you want to donate from £1 to £10), to 70070, or donate via https://www.justgiving.com/bubblefoundation/

All funds raised will be put back into The Bubble Foundation, which continues to pioneer research into severe primary immunodeficiency’s and support dedicated patient treatment and care and integrated family support.

To find out more about the Bubble Foundation, you can visit our website http://www.bubblefoundation.org.uk/ Twitter @TheBubbleUK, or Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/BubbleFoundationUK