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UNBELIEVABLE: Paralysed Irish boy walks again

Around IrelandBy Esther McCarthy
Leon McCarthy and mum Amy
Leon McCarthy and mum Amy

Brave Leon McCarthy works every day on the long journey back to full health after suffering from a brain tumour last year.

The nine-year-old was left in a wheelchair and suffering from paralysis after undergoing surgery for the tumour.

Thankfully, the growth was non-cancerous, but the operation caused complications, leaving Leon paralysed on his left side and having to learn how to walk again.

Now the sports-mad youngster is making tentative but steady progress towards his recovery.

“People don’t see how hard Leon is working – he does physiotherapy seven days a week,” says his mum Amy.

“When he first started walking with a crutch, to see him get out of the wheelchair and walking was amazing.

 “He loves sport and it keeps motivating him and inspiring him to keep going. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but he’s come very far since the operation.”

The family – who are doing this interview to highlight awareness about Leon’s condition and ongoing recovery – was rocked last year when their apparently healthy boy developed a brain tumour.

Leon, from Bandon in Co. Cork, spent weeks in Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital and months undergoing intensive therapies to get his mobility back – an effort that continues to this day.

The diagnosis rocked the young family and to complicate matters further, Amy was pregnant with Leon’s little brother Joshua when he became ill.

Amy says it was her partner and Leon’s dad, George Waugh, who first noticed something was wrong and insisted they bring him to A&E.

“While we were on holidays in Lanzarote, he was holding a photo of a snake and we noticed his left hand was forming a ‘claw’ shape,” she says.

“He was gripping and briefly couldn’t let go. We thought it was because he was nervous of the snake, but it was a little strange.”

Amy, who is a student nurse, and George kept a close eye on their son and brought him to the doctor as soon as they got home.

There were no grave concerns, but the family was offered the option of going to A&E at Cork’s Mercy Hospital for further assessment.

“The consultant spotted an involuntary movement in Leon’s hand, which set off alarm bells for him, and he sent him straight down for an MRI scan.

“Leon was running around the hospital corridors and didn’t look sick at all, but everything changed after the scan.

“The doctors were absolutely brilliant and told us there was something showing on the scan that they were concerned about. We were told to make our way to Dublin’s Beaumont Hospital as soon as possible.”

The following day the stricken family met with specialist paediatric neurosurgeons who told them the tumour was “quite big” and needed to be removed.

“It was nerve-racking waiting for the surgery. Even by the time the operation came about he had no other symptoms, though his hand was starting to claw more severely.

“He was extremely anxious going in and it was a very stressful time.”

The family was relieved to hear that Beaumont’s team had successfully removed the tumour and it was non-cancerous, but Leon faced a long and difficult recovery.

 “We were definitely shocked by the effect surgery had on him. He basically lost the use of the left side of his body. It was awful, he couldn’t get out of the bed.

“The nursing care he got was brilliant. I still get goosebumps thinking about a nurse named Gloria and how she cared for him.”

Amy says it was thanks to the dedication of hospital staff – and later the support of the National Rehabilitation Centre, where Leon spent much of this summer – that helped him get back on his feet.

Recovery continues to be tough, but he continues to make progress and now benefits from the care of staff at Enable Ireland. He has also returned to school.

Amy now plans to take part in a charity run in December to raise funds for the Beaumont Foundation.

“I know it’s not everyone’s experience, but we’ve had a really good experience in terms of access to services,” she says.

“He has a limp at the moment and has problems with function in his left hand. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but he works so hard. He loves soccer and MMA and that encourages him to keep going. He’s a massive fighter.”

To find out more about the Beaumont Foundation and to make a donation see