Cancer survivor's joy as she finally starts full-time school

Lauren McGrath
Lauren McGrath

MOST KIDS were less than thrilled at returning to school after the hol­idays, but for 10-year-old Lauren McGrath it was a dream come true.

The Limerick girl, who was left with a rare brain condition after surviving cancer twice, is overjoyed at finally getting her wish to go school full-time – after more than a year waiting for a special needs assistant.

Since she was diagnosed with cancer at three-years-old, she has endured hospital stays, chemotherapy, full-body radiation, a bone marrow transplant and a bout of meningitis.

The treatment cleared the cancer, but left Lauren with rare brain scarring, causing epileptic seizures and meaning that she needs to be constantly watched in case she hurts herself by hitting her head or crashing to the floor.

Lauren was forced to sit at home on her couch for most of last year as she was told she was not entitled to her own special needs assistant to prevent her injuring herself from falls.

Lauren with her mother June McGrath

After her heartbreaking case was highlighted in the Sunday World last November, Lauren has finally started full-time in school this week with her own SNA.

“She has got her childhood back,” said her delighted mother June.

“She is a different child, she is giddy, fun. She is back to her nutty self. She is getting her hair done in the morning for school. It is just normal behaviour.

“She was always in there. She was just lost in there. She needed the help to bring her back. She is in school full-time this week with a full-time SNA.

“She is over the moon. Her friends are coming over and they are running up and down the stairs.”

Lauren had been forced to stay at home since last September – with just two hours home tuition a week – after her parents were told she didn’t qualify for a full-time SNA.

When they tried to send her to school using a shared SNA she was coming home full of cuts because of her sudden falls.

June said she doesn’t believe she would have got the help for her child without publicly highlighting her case.

She said: “We wouldn’t have got the help. I was a full year screaming down the phone to everybody saying ‘please, she needs this’.

“It was the exposure in the Sunday World and the Limerick Post. It didn’t look good. Politicians knew, but until I went public, that’s when everything changed.

“It is a childhood taken away, she was sitting there vegetating, she was socially annihilated. Now she has everything she needs.

“We’ve also got the early intervention team in Newcastle West. She has physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy.”

And her mother said the young Limerick girl’s return to school has coincided with a remarkably good spell in her health over the past month.

She said: “The medicines have started to work. She hasn’t had a seizure in weeks. She was in hospital for 20 days in January and they were working on changing her medication.

“Her doctors never gave up on her. I’m so grateful to everyone in the Sunshine Ward and the Arc in Limerick Regional Hospital. They are like another family to us.

“I want to thank everyone for their support and my family for keeping me going. I just kept thinking ‘Jesus, someone help me’. Children can’t be forgotten about.”

She said parents of sick children shouldn’t have to fight so hard to get the services their kids desperately need to enjoy a normal childhood.

“For heartbroken parents out there fighting, keep fighting. We had a year-and-a-half of fighting and pleading with politicians and everyone.

“Shame on the system which has parents who are already extremely stressed with sick children fighting for what their children are entitled to.

“I introduced Lauren to Jan O’Sullivan when she was the education minister and I showed her Lauren’s portfolio of when she was almost at death’s door.

“I said to her ‘look at everything she has been through and now she is at home because she can’t go to school’. She said she would look into it last September and nothing changed.

“Something has to change with the system.”

However, June said that she has seen an extraordinary change in her daughter since going back into full-time education over the past few weeks.

“Her confidence and her laughter is back. Now she is a child again.”