The heartbroken family of a Limavady man who was one of only three people in the world diagnosed with a rare genetic disease, have expressed their gratitude to the medical staff who cared for him throughout his life.
Dale Eakin tragically passed away last Thursday (July 26) at the age of 20.
Dale, who was diagnosed with Yunis Varon Syndrome as an infant, had taken ill two days earlier and was taken to hospital the following day. He was diagnosed with double pneumonia and passed away on Thursday morning.
Dale, whose condition meant he was unable to breathe unaided and that his growth was restricted, repeatedly defied medical odds as experts had said he was unlikely to survive past infancy.
His proud dad, Trevor, said this week that he and his wife, Jackie, had been with Dale when he passed away and how devoted medical staff - some of whom had been caring for his son since his birth - formed a guard of honour at the funeral service at Banagher Presbyterian Church on Sunday.
“He was well-known at Altnagelvin Hospital,” Mr Eakin said. “When Dale was born he spent four years there before he got out. At that time Jackie and I by-passed each other going in and out. I remember a year after he was born they sent this professor down from Belfast and he explained to us that if we got a couple of months with Dale we will be very lucky and four years down the line, he met the same guy in the Royal Victoria Hospital and he couldn’t believe it was Dale!”
Dale, his father said, was always smiling. “He just liked people. He went to Rossmar School and he got on brilliant. He loved company; he was a wee people watcher. He would go to Foyleside and set the coffees up with me and would sit and watch the world go by and that was his favourite thing, along with a box of photographs he loved, and staying in hotels. He also went to a wee place called Art Space in Eglinton. He went to that Monday to a Friday and all his wee friends were in that. He also went to a wee cafe, Rossmars, and met up with all his friends.
“We got a lot of enjoyment with Dale and he knew what he wanted. Every weekend he was out. If you told Dale we were going to get his hair cut, he didn’t forget, he had a good memory.”
Close family friend Lester Ferris added: “He was always jovial considering what he went through. He always had a smile on his face for anybody that came to see him.”
Dale was a big fan of family friend, footballer Shay Given, and his beloved football team Newcastle United. In fact, local nurses had arranged through Make-A-Wish for Dale to go to St. James’s Park with his family via the ferry to meet the players and backroom staff, a trip his father said was one of the highlights of Dale’s life.
In recent times Dale also enjoyed visiting Frank Owen’s Bar in the town, the venue where he celebrated his 18th birthday back in January 2016.
Speaking about the tragic events of last week, Trevor said that the night he took ill, “Dale didn’t want to let my hand or Jackie’s hand go, as if he knew.”
“He was smiling away, he was wild for winking at the nurses and he was wild about blondes, he always licked his lips. They couldn’t have realised that night that although he was gasping for air, he was still licking his lips. The lead doctor that was there said they will never forget Dale passed away with a wee smile on his face.”
“He was just our wee man - that’s what we always called him, our wee man.”
Paying tribute to all those who cared for his son, Mr Eakin said: “From day one he got the best treatment. He had his own wee room in the hospital. They put curtains and pictures up, he was that long in.”
Mr Eakin said he and Jackie wanted to thank Dale’s home carers, Altnagelvin Hospital’s Ward 6 nurses and doctors, staff at A&E, ICU, Dr Neil Corrigan and Dale’s named nurse Carmel O’Kane, both of whom have been with him since birth.
“We want to thank everyone who came to the house and funeral and who sent their condolences,” he added.