NIGHT FOR ALANNAH
Tuesday, 15 January 2013
THE parents of a little girl who passed away after she was stricken by a brain tumour have shared their heartbreaking story ahead of a fundraising night in her memory.
Carla and Lee Downey hope that by giving a glimpse into what their daughter went through they can help raise awareness and much needed money towards research into brain tumours.
Displaying tremendous strength and dignity in the face of the most tragic turn their lives have taken, the couple spoke openly to the Democrat about Alannah's ordeal and the unflinching spirit she showed throughout.
Taking us step by step through their daughter's illness, Lee and Carla said they are now determined to do whatever they can to spare any family from having to live through the same trauma.
It's with this aim in mind that they've organised an awareness and fundraising Night at the Races in Alannah's memory. Now they're calling on local businesses to offer support through sponsorship or donations for the event, which will boost the finances of three charities.
THE day that would change Carla and Lee Downey's lives forever started out as any other.
As the couple got ready to take their children, Keelan and Alannah, to school, the youngsters were more interested in having fun, playing together, jumping on Keelan's bed.
But in an instant the hectic, happy household was thrown into turmoil as, with the words "daddy, my ear's sore" Alannah collapsed.
The three-year-old's lips went blue and her breathing became shallow before slowing to a stop. Carla rang 999 and relayed instructions from the operator to Lee, who tried desperately to resuscitate his daughter. But despite his best efforts, by the time the ambulance arrived Alannah was already in a coma.
With only one paramedic to work on Alannah on the way to Daisy Hill, Lee once again had to step in and help, cutting his daughter out of her nursery school uniform.
It was Monday, January 16 2012. On arrival at the hospital a team of 30 medical staff were waiting to whisk Alannah away. It would be February 4 before Alannah's parents would be able to hold their little girl again.
A brain scan confirmed she had suffered a massive stroke and hemorrhage. Alannah was rushed to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Belfast where she underwent emergency brain surgery, during which some of her skull was removed for biopsy.
When the results of that biopsy came through on Wednesday, two days after Alannah had collapsed, they brought the worst possible news. Lee and Carla's little girl had an aggressive malignant tumour, the size of a mandarin orange, on her brain.
“You can't take in news like that, you go into shock and on to autopilot," Carla said.
“All we could do was wait by her bedside and nurse her as best we could, just stay with her."
For eight long weeks Carla and Lee did just that, refusing to give up on their daughter, despite doctors warning they believed she was brain dead.
“We never gave up hope," Lee said. "Although Alannah was in a coma, as the weeks passed she started showing signs of life. On January 30 she started yawning. The doctors told us it was just a reflex but we knew in our hearts it was more.
“On February 4 we were allowed to hold her again for the first time. Her eyes moved. Again the doctors told us it was reflex but we knew she was in there, still fighting away."
With doctors continuing to closely monitor Alannah and an MRI scan showing no spread of the tumour, the decision was taken to try removing it.
“That was a very positive development for us, as it had previously been ruled out," she said.
“It was new hope, and not just our hope anymore - it showed that the doctors saw reason for hope too."
On February 20 Alannah went through 16 hours of surgery as her parents waited anxiously for news. At midnight the consultant told them all had went well and the following morning it was confirmed that 95 per cent of the tumour had been successfully removed, although Alannah also needed a blood transfusion due to the heavy blood loss she'd suffered during surgery.
Over the coming days Alannah's blood pressure remained dangerously high. She did, however, open her eyes and started regaining some movement in her body.
By March 2, defying all the odds, she had fought her way out of the coma.
Over the following weeks and months Alannah seemed to recover well from her ordeal, so much so that, on May 9, she celebrated her fourth birthday in hospital with a Peppa Pig party.
“She loved every minute of it," Carla said. " She was very alert and recognised all her family and friends. She even sang the Peppa Pig song from start to end. It was out of this world, just amazing."
But a week later the Downey's world was to come crashing down again. Alannah's latest MRI scan showed that the tumour had returned, bigger this time than before.
Six weeks of intense chemotherapy followed but to no avail. The tumour was still growing and was smothering Alannah's brain. Neurosurgeons advised that it had moved into an inoperable part of her brain and there was nothing more could be done.
On July 12 Lee and Carla were finally allowed to bring their daughter back where she belonged, home, where she could enjoy her last days surrounded by the people who loved her.
“She had two very happy weeks," Carla said.
“We had a princess party for her and a photo shoot. Keelan played with her and she just enjoyed the craic. We did everything possible just to keep her smiling. She was content in every way."
Alannah passed away peacefully at home on July 26 with her mum, dad and big brother by her side.
“Our girl was amazing right up until her last breath," Carla said. "She kept her spirits high and she fought the bravest of battles."
Now, in a demonstration of exactly where their daughter got her fighting spirit from, both Lee and Carla have returned to studying - he in the hopes of becoming a paramedic and she, a nurse.
“Alannah wasn't one for sitting still," Carla said.
“So we won't either. We can feel her with us every day. We talk about her every day and she always makes us laugh, we've so many happy memories.
“It's in honour of her that we want to do something that might make a difference to someone else. It's what she would have wanted."
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