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9 May 2014

Wee Oscar’s Twitter account:

Five-year-old Oscar Knox passed away on Thursday

Oscar Knox, the County Antrim boy whose long battle against an aggressive form of cancer captured the hearts of many people in Northern Ireland, has died.

Oscar, who was five, died on Thursday after a two-and-a-half year battle with neuroblastoma.

His family launched the Oscar Knox Appeal campaign during his illness.

On Friday they tweeted: “Our beautiful, amazing and much loved son Oscar James Knox gained his angel wings yesterday afternoon. Sleep tight little man.”

In a full statement, his family said: “Oscar has brought unimaginable joy to our family with his smile and his infectious personality.

“Our little superhero achieved so much in his short life and inspired so many people throughout the world to do so many amazing things. It is something we are incredibly proud of.

“We wish to take this opportunity once again to thank all of Oscar’s followers the world over for everything they have done for us and for the wonderful kindness and generosity that has been shown.

“We also want to thank the teams at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children and NI Children’s Hospice whose kindness and compassion has been nothing short of amazing.

“Nothing can ever take the pain away but knowing we were supported so much and that Oscar was loved so much, brings great comfort.”

The family have asked for privacy in the coming days.

A ceremony, described as a “celebration of Oscar’s life”, will be held in St Bernard’s Church, Glengormley, on Sunday, 11 May.

“We welcome friends, family and supporters of Oscar to join us in procession from the NI Children’s Hospice at 10.15am on May 11 and onwards to St Bernard’s Church.”

A strictly private cremation will follow.

Oscar was first diagnosed with the disease in November 2011.

After intensive treatment, ‘Wee Oscar’ was finally given the all clear in April 2013, but it returned in August 2013.

In October 2012, he received specialist treatment in America after his family reached their £250,000 fundraising target to pay for the immunotherapy treatment.

After his initial diagnosis, his parents set up the Twitter account so they could update friends and family on Oscar’s condition each time he was in hospital.

However, the account quickly attracted thousands of followers.

Among them were families whose children have the same condition.

The Twitter account became a phenomenon in June 2012, after a group of Irish football fans posed for pictures in Dublin airport before heading off to the European football championship with a flag saying “Angela Merkel thinks we’re at work”.

Celtic fan

Oscar – who had been allowed to stay up late to watch the matches – and his father Stephen, made their own flag saying “My ma thinks I’ll be in bed early” and then tweeted a picture of it.

The ‘Merkel lads’, as they became known, were so touched by the picture they decided to auction their flag to raise money for the toddler.

When they arrived back in Dublin they drove straight from the airport to Mallusk to meet Oscar

Oscar, was a fan of Glasgow Celtic and the football club joined in the fundraising campaign.

Last July, when Belfast side, Cliftonville, went to Glasgow for their UEFA Champions League qualifier, Oscar donned his green and white shirt and led Celtic out before the game as team mascot alongside captain, Scott Brown.

In a statement on Friday, Celtic said: “This is absolutely devastating news and our thoughts and prayers are with Oscar’s parents, Stephen and Leona, and his little sister, Izzie, at this desperately sad time.

“We can’t even begin to understand the pain of their loss, but I hope that there will be a small measure of consolation in knowing that there was genuine love and affection for Oscar from the Celtic family throughout the world.

“Oscar’s courage throughout his illness was truly inspirational, and it was a real pleasure for everyone at the club to meet Oscar when he was our team mascot last July.”

Belfast boxer Carl Frampton said it was very sad news.

“I’m kind of in shock, because with the wee man, I knew he was very, very sick, but you always expected him to get better because he is such a fighter,” he said.

“It’s just heart-breaking.”

Remembering Oscar
by Peter Coulter

I was walking down a street in Belfast city centre about a year ago when a mother was walking along with her young child.

The child stopped and looked at a picture of Oscar Knox in a shop window and asked his mother why that little boy had no hair.

She explained that he was very sick and told her son he was being treated for cancer and that had made his hair fall out. The child nodded and asked a few more questions with this new understanding of cancer.

It was two years ago when BBC News NI first met Oscar Knox and since then his family has tirelessly campaigned to raise awareness of high risk neuroblastoma and the importance of blood donations.

His parents Stephen and Leona began their Twitter account to provide a support network for other parents whose children had the same condition.

Raising awareness has always been top of his parents list. Blood donations in NI and understanding of high risk neuroblastoma did increase during their campaign.

Oscar Knox was a normal five-year-old who loved pizza, Sugarpuffs, playing with his sister Izzy, Scooby Doo and Spiderman.

Oscar loved his doctors and nurses and they adored him. It will be a tough time for the medical staff who have supported him over the last two and a half years.


Derry Journal
30 April 2012

On April 29 1986 a nuclear reactor exploded at the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine, releasing 190 tons of radioactive material into the atmosphere, 70 per cent of which fell over Belarus. The following years brought a massive rise in birth defects, heart conditions and childhood cancers, which continue to this day to affect children born into the danger zones.

Many of the children born with birth defects or other health conditions are abandoned by their parents who are not in a position to care for them due to extreme poverty. The majority of these children will end up in adult mental asylums where they will spend the rest of their lives.

The results were and remain to this day – catastrophic. Four hundred times more radioactive material was released than had been by the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

Every year, a small number of children from Belarus visit the North West for respite thanks to the kindness and generosity of 14 host families who are members of the North West branch of Chernobyl Children International.

This week, along with Derry’s Mayor Alderman Maurice Devenney, representatives from the group launched a massive fundraising drive. They aim to raise £50,000 to build a ‘Home for Hope’ in Belarus and help some children escape from the horrific sentence of life in orphanages and mental asylums.

Derry woman Emma Hunt, who recently visited Belarus, is urging as many local people as possible to support their cause.

“This Home for Hope will make a huge difference,” she says.

“Belarus is a bleak, bleak place. People are forced to live in awful conditions and they’re eating vegetables which are grown on contaminated land because they have no other choice. During my time there I was visiting children at one of the schools. We brought our own lunch and pulled over to eat it. One side of the road was a picnic site and the other side was a radiation site. It was as if the radiation stops at the white line. It’s just heartbreaking for the children involved who have so little hope,” she adds.

Siobhan McNally, Group Leader of Chernobyl Childrens International Foyle and Inishowen Outreach is hoping as many people from the North West as possible will make a small donation to the Home for Hope fund.

“This is just the beginning of the fundraising and the Home for Hope will make a huge difference. It will only be made possible with help from people here. We’re giving ourselves five years to raise the 50,000 euro and while we understand that we’re living in a difficult climate we hope that people will be able to give just a little bit to help support us,” she says.

Siobhan, Emma and other members of CCI’s Foyle and Inishowen branch will be holding a street collection in the city today (Sunday).

Other fundraising activities will take part in the city over the summer months. See local press for details or, to make a donation, contact Siobhan on 07588866865.

Researcher warns that young people who witnessed worst years of conflict are turning violence on themselves as adults

26 Mar 2012

A British soldier searches a teenager in Belfast, Northern Ireland, during the Troubles in 1971. (Photograph: Keystone/Getty Images)

People who grew up in the worst years of the Troubles are the most prone to suicide in Northern Ireland, an international conference on children in conflict has heard.

The legacy of the conflict has resulted in a higher rate of self-harming – particularly in Derry, UK City of Culture in 2013 – among children and young adults who witnessed the violence compared with other British and Irish cities.

Professor Mike Tomlinson, who has studied suicide rates over the last 40 years, told the Children in Conflict conference in Belfast that the overall rate of suicide in Northern Ireland doubled after the IRA’s second and decisive ceasefire in 1997.

“There are clear indications from the data … that the levels of psychic distress in Northern Ireland have risen dramatically in the period of the peace.

“This is something of a paradox since we have just learnt that Northern Ireland is the happiest region of the UK,” the Queen’s University of Belfast academic said.

In his research, Tomlinson said suicide rates for men rose from 13 per 100,000 of the population in 1997 to 24 per 100,000 by 2008.

“Having studied 40 years of data on age, gender and cause of death, my conclusion is that the cohort of children and young adults who grew up in the worst years of violence between 1969 and 1977-78 now have the highest suicide rates and the most rapidly increasing rates of all age groups.

“The highest suicide rate is currently for men aged 35-44, followed closely by the 25-34 and 45-54 age groups,” he said.

Tomlinson warned that some of those who witnessed the Troubles as children and teenagers were now turning the violence on themselves during peacetime.

“Those age groups with the highest suicide rates belong to the generations of people who grew up in the conflict and who experienced no other social context until the late 1990s. They are the people who were must acculturated to division and conflict, and to violence,” he said.

“In the period of peace, externalised expressions of violence and cultures of authoritarianism have gradually subsided, and to some extent violence has become internalised.

“At present, our young people are responding to the social crisis they face with the labour market not through mass political protest or social disorder, but through private solutions, including emigration, including self-destructive tendencies.”

Tomlinson’s research compared hospital admissions caused by self-harm in nine cities across Britain, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. It found that Derry had the highest such admissions, with 611 in 2009, while Dublin, which is currently suffering an ongoing recession, had 352 admissions in the same year.

Derry’s self-harm rate was higher than that of Manchester, Leeds, Oxford, Limerick, Cork, Galway and Waterford.

The conference, which began on Monday at Belfast’s Europa Hotel, focuses on the impact on children of violent conflict and social problems in various parts of the world.

Irish Times
3 Jan 2012

**This is TOTALLY unacceptable and sounds like something out of the Stone Age

ALMOST 24,000 children were waiting for outpatient appointments at the capital’s three children’s hospitals last year and over 1,000 were waiting for more than 12 months, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The snapshot figures from Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, the Children’s University Hospital, Temple Street and the National Children’s Hospital, Tallaght, show particular pressure on specialties including ear, nose and throat, cardiology, general surgery and dermatology.

The largest single outpatient waiting list was to see an ophthalmic specialist at Our Lady’s, where almost 2,300 children were waiting at the end of last May.

Over 450 of these children were waiting more than six months and 10 were waiting for longer than 12 months, though the figures released did not stipulate how much longer.

More than 1,600 children were waiting to be seen by ear, nose and throat specialists at Temple Street at the end of May last year. Over 300 children had been waiting more than 12 months.

At Tallaght hospital, the longest list was also to see ear, nose and throat specialists, with over 700 children waiting when the figures were collated there in July. Waiting times for this hospital were released only as “median” figures and the wait for this specialty was shown as 3.3 months.

The time spent on an outpatient waiting list refers to the length of time a patient has to wait to be seen by a hospital consultant once referred by a GP.

Figures for numbers of patients on outpatient waiting lists and the length of time they have to wait have never been published by the Health Service Executive or the Department of Health.

The only waiting list figures traditionally published are those for inpatient waiting, which detail how long a patient waits for surgery or a procedure once seen by a consultant.

Over 14,000 children were waiting for first appointments with specialists at Our Lady’s, according to the figures released to The Irish Times . After ophthalmic, general surgery, which deals with abdominal surgery such as for appendicitis, had the largest waiting list at the hospital, with almost 2,200 children.

But the specialty with the longest delays at the hospital was cardiology. Almost 2,100 children were waiting for first appointments for this specialty; nearly half of these were waiting more than six months and over 180 were waiting for longer than 12 months.

Nearly 300 children wishing to see orthopaedic, neurology or ear, nose and throat specialists were also waiting longer than 12 months.

At Temple Street, over 6,600 children were waiting for first outpatient appointments. After ear, nose and throat, the longest delay in getting appointments was in general surgery. Some 110 children were waiting longer than 12 months for this specialty, which had a total waiting list of just under 1,000.

There were delays of over 12 months for 35 children waiting for appointments with a dermatology specialist at the hospital and 26 children were waiting more than a year to be seen at neonatology. There were also delays of more than 12 months for some children in urology, nephrology, and cardiology.

It was not possible to determine from the figures released by Tallaght hospital how long children were waiting for appointments as only “median” figures were provided. Apart from ear, nose and throat, the largest waiting list was for paediatric medicine, with 662 children waiting a median of 2.8 months. Though this figure shows a large number of children were seen within three months, it does not preclude that some children could have waited for over a year.

Some 280 children were waiting to see a respiratory medicine specialist, with a median wait of 2.7 months. And over 260 were waiting to be seen in general surgery, where the median wait was almost a month.
Monday December 05 2011

Parents of children with cancer in Northern Ireland are forced to borrow money to cover costs during treatment, according to research.

Families are struggling to meet the extra expense of accommodation, childcare, food and travel, said the report for young people’s cancer charity CLIC Sargent.

Around 66% of parents surveyed said they were borrowing cash to make ends meet and 76% said extra costs were having a major impact on family finances, the report said.

Mary Ross Swain from Ballykelly, Co Derry, is mother to 18-year-old Michael, who was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in November 2010. His mother and her husband William were both out of work at the time of Michael’s diagnosis.

Mrs Swain said; “At that point all we could think about was if Michael was going to be OK and how we were going to afford all the travelling and extra costs.

“Money was already a concern for us before Michael’s diagnosis. My husband and I were not working at the time and I was caring for my father. So the prospect of lengthy treatment and the extra financial burden was overwhelming.”

“Due to my situation, credit was not an option for us. We weren’t able to get loans or credit cards and were worried about the prospect of lengthy repayments. Instead we were forced to borrow from family and we continue to get their support today. I’ve lost track of the amount of extra money we have needed.”

Children with cancer in Northern Ireland travel an average of 95 miles, up to five times a week for hospital treatment at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Belfast. This means an estimated extra fuel cost of £370 per month that families have to find to ensure their child receives treatment, the charity research said.

Many parents are forced to give up work, putting even more pressure on family finances, with three in five (58%) of those asked saying they had to reduce the number of hours they worked. Around 6% of parents surveyed said they had turned to high interest, short-term payday loans to cope with the additional costs.

Cecilia Milburn, partnership manager at CLIC Sargent in Northern Ireland, said: “It’s shocking to hear that some families felt driven to debt in order to get through financially. We want to work with the Government and other organisations to find better ways of ensuring young people and children with cancer, and their families, have the financial support they need.”

Bobby Sands mural photo
Ní neart go cur le chéile


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