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‘Docs said tumour would kill our girl...but she’s walking and talking again’

NewsBy Esther McCarthy
Mairead with Emily (right) and Searlait
Mairead with Emily (right) and Searlait

Little Searlait Tywang has plenty to be proud of as she plays with little sister Emily in their home.

For the four-year-old spent the last year courageously battling back from an almost fatal brain tumour and side effects that left her learning to walk and talk again.

This extraordinary little girl’s survival is regarded as “a miracle” by her family. And now they’re determined to raise funding for the Dublin hospital that saved Searlait’s life.

Last year the courageous little Kilkenny girl fought with all her might to recover from PNET, a cancerous brain tumour that left her fighting for her life.

And her parents say it was only because of the expertise and dedication of staff at Temple Street that tragedy was averted.

Parents Mairead and Paul first noticed little changes in their daughter during Christmas 2013, when she was three years old.

“She’d always been a really mannerly girl, but she started talking back and arguing. I thought we’d missed the terrible twos and were getting the terrible threes instead,” said Mairead.

Her parents had Searlait assessed by her GP, who agreed and sent the toddler to hospital.

In the following days, her condition rapidly deteriorated. “She started sleeping for 16 hours a day,” said Mairead.

“We were really concerned and desperate to know what was wrong, but had no answers. She lost her appetite and when she stopped even speaking we brought her back to the hospital.”

When the results of a scan came through, doctors immediately rushed her to Temple Street. It was the beginning of a nightmare period for the family.

“We were told the scan had shown a mass on her brain, but even then we didn’t realise how sick our girl really was. On Wednesday, March 26, things got really scary,” said Mairead.

The plan that day was to remove as much as possible of the tumour through surgery, but as she was being prepared doctors realised she was ‘coning’ – a potentially fatal occurrence caused by severe pressure and swelling of the brain.

“Doctors and nurses were all around her – it was like something from a TV drama,” remembers Mairead.

“Her brain was starting to close down. They were trying to save her, but we were told to prepare ourselves for the worst. They said there wasn’t even time to say goodbye. One of the doctors later told us it was one of the closest calls they had seen in Temple Street for a long time.”

Miraculously, Searlait survived this dramatic scare, but there were more difficulties ahead for the family from Skehanna, Castlecomer.

She had four hours of surgery that day and seven hours the next as doctors did everything they could to ‘debulk’ the cancerous tumour.

Following a spell in intensive care, Searlait was sent back to the ward on Sunday – which Mairead remembers was Mother’s Day.

“She started to do so well. Within four or five days she was starting to put sentences together.

“While she hadn’t suffered a stroke, the effects on her were similar and were connected to her tumour. She had no movement on her right side. She had to learn to walk, speak and even sit up again.”

Not only was Searlait largely unfazed by this and the gruelling months of chemotherapy that followed – her mum also said her fighting spirit shone through.

“She’s stubborn, and it helped her,” smiled Mairead. “One day, one of the nurses said she wouldn’t yet be able to sit up by herself. I’ll never forget how she dug her elbow into the bed, sat up, looked at the nurse and said: ‘I can.’ Nothing kept her down.

 “Paul was an amazing support to us all. Without the support of my family and Paul’s we would never have got through – our mums Peggy and Nora were especially brilliant.”

Now Mairead and her sister Michelle – like hundreds of other women  – are training to run this year’s mini-marathon in aid of Temple Street.

“We wanted to do something, because they gave us back our little girl. They gave us back our life,” said Mairead.

Each year, hundreds of women from across the country put on the purple Temple Street t-shirt and take part in the VHI Women’s Mini Marathon.

This year Temple Street is hoping to recruit 1,500 women to join their team to help with their fundraising drive to rebuild the hospital’s Renal and Neurology Outpatients Unit.

Sign up at www.vhiwomensminimarathon.com to get your race number and then register to run for Temple Street at www.templestreet.ie