Mother appeals to Taoiseach on behalf of 10-year-old son

Norma Prendiville


Norma Prendiville

Carmel and Jamie Culhane at their home in Killeedy
THE mother of a 10-year-old boy with scoliosis has appealed, in desperation, to the Taoiseach and to the Minister for Health to get her son the treatment he urgently needs.

THE mother of a 10-year-old boy with scoliosis has appealed, in desperation, to the Taoiseach and to the Minister for Health to get her son the treatment he urgently needs.

Jamie Culhane, from Killeedy in West Limerick was first diagnosed with early onset curvature of the spine a year ago and was deemed to be a priority case.

But, says his mother Carmel, his condition has disimproved even in the last six months and the 60 degree curvature of his spine is now 65 degrees.

Yet they can get no date for the vital operation that would correct this. According to Carmel, there are over 600 children waiting for orthopaedic operations at Crumlin Children’s Hospital.

And although the family has private health insurance, no private hospital will carry out the operation on children under 14. They have also been refused the option of getting the surgery done under the new Treatment Abroad Scheme because their first consultant’s visit was done privately.

When Jamie, a half-twin, was first diagnosed, Carmel explains, she discovered it could take six to 12 months to be seen by a consultant at Crumlin Hospital. After several months’ wait and in desperation, she made a private appointment but this still did not happen until seven months after the initial diagnosis.

Then, they were told Jamie had a 60 degree curve requiring spinal surgery, where a rod would be attached to his spine and lengthened every three to six months. He was placed, Carmel says, on the urgent list.

“My understanding of urgent must be different to the HSE,” she goes on. “He has already waited seven months for this urgent operation.”

“I am so upset and extremely angry with our health service for allowing my son to suffer,” she adds, explaining that Jamie suffers a lot of pain and tires easily. She is also angry that Jamie’s health is being put in danger. If a child’s surgery is delayed until 70 degree curvature is reached, she explains, the surgery is longer and more complex there are more fused vertebrae, the risk of blood loss is greater and the recovery time is 40% longer.

And as each month goes by, the greater is the risk his heart and lungs can be compromised. She is also dismayed by the fact that a technicality has ruled her son out of the Treatment Abroad scheme. It was only because of her concern for her son and the long waiting time, that she opted to use her health insurance to see the consultant privately, she points out.

“As a mother it is very hard to watch my little boy getting worse,” Carmel goes on. The guidelines, she points out, recommend that surgery take place within ten weeks once the curve is over 50 degrees. “This is the case in any other country except here,” she says. But her biggest fear is this: how bad must Jamie’s curve get before he gets his operation?

Meanwhile also, she says, Jamie is losing out on his childhood and on simple family outings such as a walk in the Newcastle West demesne.

Carmel has written to the Taoiseach and to Health Minister Leo Varadker, to highlight the issue.

Minister Varadker in his reply to her said he would look into the matter but Carmel wonders is this simply a standard reply. So far, her appeal to Taoiseach Enda Kenny has met with silence.

“I want them to give the hospital and doctors the resources they need so they can help my son and other children like him,” Carmel says.