Style & ShowbizHealth

The girl with "the complicated heart" beats the odds and bounces back from illness

HealthBy Esther McCarthy
Ellen and Poppy Moloney
Ellen and Poppy Moloney

The family of a little girl who survived a life-threatening heart condition have spoken of their gratitude to the hospital team that saved her life.

Our dramatic photos show how baby Poppy Moloney spent her first four months fighting to survive after being born with FIVE serious heart complaints.

She also suffered a bleed to her brain and doctors are amazed that she has since reached all her milestones. Little wonder mum Ellen calls her daughter "a warrior".

The family, from Keenagh in Longford, released these heart-rending photos to show the incredible work carried out by heart specialists at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital Crumlin and how they have transformed the fate of Poppy, now seven months old.

"She's been through the mill, but she's so strong," said mum Ellen. "As well as all her heart problems, she had a bleed to her brain, which was a huge issue.

"We were warned not to be hopeful that she would be as bright as she is today. As a mother you always have faith in your child, but she has been truly amazing."

Still, Poppy has ongoing issues and her relationship with Crumlin will be a long-term one – for example, she will need further open heart surgery in the future.

Ellen had a normal pregnancy and although Poppy wasn't feeding well in the early days, she otherwise seemed perfectly healthy.

However, when she stopped feeding completely at eight days old, Ellen "knew something wasn't right" and promptly brought her girl to hospital.

"Her condition started to deteriorate very rapidly even during the hospital visit. The nurse noticed that her legs had turned blue and the medical team around her kept growing. They started working to keep her alive."

For Ellen and husband James, also parents to three-year-old Ava Lilly, it was an utterly shocking development.

"It became obvious that there was a problem with her heart. We were in shock, disbelief. At this stage it was critical and they didn't know if she would pull through."

Poppy, her family would later discover, had five major heart problems, including a hole in the wall that separates the chambers of her heart, double outlet right ventricle, a heart disease that can also affect the lungs, a narrowing of the entry to her aorta, thickening of her pulmonary artery which causes fluid on her lungs, and a build-up of tissue in front of her pulmonary valve.

As Ellen puts it: "She has a complicated heart."

She was such a sick little girl that a specialist team from Crumlin was sent to transfer her to the Dublin hospital.

"There was no time for questions – they were just trying to save her life," said her mum simply.

Inevitably, the stress on the newborn's body led to other complications. Her liver and kidneys became damaged and crucially she had a seizure and suffered a bleed to her brain.

"This was big. We were warned it could affect her movement and cause a lot of damage. We won't know how or whether it has affected her until she reaches her milestones. So far there's a lot to hope for. She's kicking and moving like any other baby. She's so alert – we were told to expect none of this."

When she was just 10 days old, Poppy had her first open heart surgery to reduce the flow of blood to her lungs caused by one of her heart problems and has since had numerous operations.

Last December she underwent even more serious and complex surgery, which involved 10 hours in theatre and two-and-a-half days on life support.

The family said that being able to stay in the hospital’s Ronald McDonald accommodation for the families of seriously ill children at this time was a godsend. They met and shared experiences with other families, who have become friends for life.

At the end of January, after spending the first four-and-a-half months of her life in Crumlin, Poppy got to go home to Longford with her overjoyed parents.

"She spent an amazing month at home followed by two more admissions," said her mum. "Poppy is now seven months old and has spent Halloween, Christmas and St Patrick's day in Crumlin. It's a big part of her life – and ours.

"Currently, on the outside Poppy is doing well. She's laughing, giggling, content and happy. On the inside, Poppy's heart is very poorly. Poppy's heart will never be fixed, but she needs more surgery to prolong her life.

"We've met so many families in Crumlin who will be friends of ours for a lifetime – especially Poppy's friend Harry who was in the incubator beside her at the very start of her journey.

"Also, we can't name Poppy's favourite nurse because she honestly must have about 10! They're in love with her, and her with them. The team at Crumlin has saved her life, and brought her so far."

The Children's Medical & Research Foundation Crumlin, which raises funds for Our Lady's and the National Children’s Research Centre, has launched the Crumlin's Big Book of Memories to celebrate the hospital’s 60th anniversary. Members of the public will be able to see and share stories which illustrate the hospital's 60-year existence and history.

Funds raised through the campaign will be used to make urgently needed renovations to the outpatients department, which sees 2,300 children pass through its doors every week. For more, see