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Tat’s my girl Doting dad covers his body in ink as way of 'coping with daughter's pain'

Chris was tattoo-free when his daughter was born but he used it as a coping mechanism as he tried to nurse his child through her ordeals.

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Jessica -Rose Dalzell with her dad Chris, who has covered his body in ink

Jessica -Rose Dalzell with her dad Chris, who has covered his body in ink

Jessica -Rose Dalzell with her dad Chris, who has covered his body in ink

Jessica-Rose Dalzell cups her dad’s face in her hands every day and tells him how much she loves his tattoos.

As far as she is concerned that’s Dad – it’s all she’s ever known and for him, as a devoted father, they are a symbol of the journey he has been on with his daughter since the day she was born.

The four-year-old’s life has been dogged by ill-health, she lives in almost constant discomfort and pain – a situation made worse by the Covid lockdown and no diagnosis.

All Chris knows is his little girl is in pain and he’s determined to do something.

A chef by trade, he lives in Bangor with partner Ruth and her son Jamie, and has launched a fundraising drive so he can take his little girl to see a specialist in England in the search for a much-needed diagnosis.

“Jessica has no quality of life,” he said, “she spends every day in pain – as a parent that is so difficult, sometimes she cries out in pain.

“There’s nothing we can do to help her.”

Chris was tattoo-free when his daughter was born but he used it as a coping mechanism as he tried to nurse his child through her ordeals.

“I always wanted a child, so when my first child was born to live in pain, I didn’t know how to cope with it. I was helpless, I could see she was in pain.

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Jessica Dalzell with her dad, Chris, mum, Ruth and brother Jamie at their Bangor, Co Down home

Jessica Dalzell with her dad, Chris, mum, Ruth and brother Jamie at their Bangor, Co Down home

Jessica Dalzell with her dad, Chris, mum, Ruth and brother Jamie at their Bangor, Co Down home

“I started to get the tattoos done, it was a coping mechanism, I was putting myself in pain, kind of putting myself in her place, trying to understand what it was like to live with discomfort.

“It helped me come to terms with what Jessica is going through.”

He admits to having concerns about how Jessica would react to his tattoos – but she loves them.

“She puts her hands on my cheeks and tells me she loves them, she gets markers and colours them in!”

He said if he thought at any stage she didn’t like them he would have the tattoos, which cover his entire body, all removed – no matter how painful.

But for now the greater pain is the fight to get his daughter the right treatment.

In four short years Jessica has undergone numerous treatments and procedures, including having a colostomy bag fitted last year and spending half her life in hospital.

Sadly the colostomy didn’t work, leaving her in pain every day of the week.

She has been diagnosed with a heart issue and is unable to use the toilet without taking a heavy-duty laxative.

Chris is convinced she is suffering Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS), a rare condition which affects connective tissues which provide support in skin, tendons, ligaments, blood vessels, internal organs and bones.

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Jessica Dalzell with her dad, Chris

Jessica Dalzell with her dad, Chris

Jessica Dalzell with her dad, Chris

She has been under the care of the Belfast Trust who have conceded they have limited expertise of EDS and are unable to provide a definitive diagnosis.

There’s no cure but with the correct treatment sufferers can live with the condition.

“It’s desperately frustrating. At the moment all we are doing is pumping her full of drugs, heavy-duty laxatives. We just seem to be going round in circles.”

Her young body has to withstand painkillers and more medication than she’s ever been on.

He said the regime needed to manage Jessica’s condition was having a big impact on family life.

“She can spend two hours a day with a needle in her getting her medication, she just as no quality of life.”

Inevitably the family have not been immune to the impact of Covid.

Before Chrismas Jessica became quite ill and needed to be admitted to hospital only for the family to be told she would need a negative Covid test – and then to be informed the nearest testing centre which had slots available was in Glasgow.

When she finally got a local test she was placed in a ward with someone who subsequently tested positive.

“We were told she and her mum would have to isolate in a room at the hospital for two weeks – a four-year-old in a hospital room with for two weeks? I just brought them home.”

The family are hoping to be able to take Jessica to see specialists in London. Initial estimates put the cost of a consultation and diagnosis at £8,000. They’ve set up a GoFundMe page and have already raised £2,000 toward their £3,500 target with Chris offsetting the remainder of the fees himself.

Although he admits the cost of further treatment could spiral.

“Since we started this I’ve been contact by other people affected by EDS, so I want to help raise awareness of the condition, it’s an unknown illness.

“What I have learned is that the real expertise lies in Harley Street, but that could cost tens of thousands. We are just trying to do our best for Jessica.”

He said the reaction of the local community in the Towerview area of Bangor had been “phenomenal”.

“The support and help we have had is incredible, people have organised raffles, businesses have put up prizes. Times are hard at the moment but we’ve been bowled over by people’s generosity.

“Jessica is a loving, caring child, we want her to have a happy, quality life.”

To help Chris reach his target you can make a donation here.

  • richard.sullivan@sundayworld.com

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