A BRAND new facility for children with physical disabilities and complex medical needs in the region is to open in Limerick.
More than 100 families across the region will benefit from the new purpose-built St Gabriel's Children's Respite House which is being developed at a cost of €2.4m, €1m of which has already been donated by the JP McManus foundation.
And on top of this, Mayor James Collins has confirmed the Limerick Twenty Thirty company will be sponsoring specialist equipment at the centre.
In order to make up the shortfall of cash, St. Gabriel’s has now embarked on a major fund-raising campaign - 'St Gabriel’s Children’s Respite House is about time!’ - to raise a shortfall over €1m for the funding of the facility.
It is hoped construction work will be complete by the autumn, with an opening scheduled for spring next year.
The fundraising campaign kicked off this Monday night in the Savoy Hotel.
Among those to address the event was Mary Quinlan, mother of 13 year-old Maia Quinlan from Limerick – the family that has generously allowed its personal story to be the case-study for the campaign in order to highlight the need for this new facility.
She said at the moment, the only suitable respite facility in the country where Maia can go to is in Dublin.
“In June 2016 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. So, for a long time I was unable physically to look after Maia, which was very difficult,” she says of her own personal experience of the need for the centre.
"For me, as her mum, and for my husband, who the burden of care fell to, we really needed the psychological peace of mind of knowing Maia was being looked after. And unfortunately that was probably the greatest source of stress. If there had been a facility like the respite house available to us it would have been a huge support.
"Maia is like a newborn baby in the body of a 13 year-old. She has quadriplegic cerebral-palsy, so she is unable to use any of her limbs. She is unable to do anything for herself. Despite all her difficulties she is one of the best people I know. I think if you are having a bad day, all you have to do is come in and sit with Maia and you will get a lot of perspective on what’s good about life.
"But she does need round-the-clock care and sometimes there are other things that we absolutely have to do, whether it’s for our other children or a family event, and it’s very difficult to marry those demands with Maia’s needs. Maia will only have three years or so to avail of the facilities as it will be for children up to 18 years but even those few years will provide precious support. We know Maia will be in really good hands there.
"This will be an absolute game changer for a lot of families," she added.
Maire O'Leary, the chief executive of St Gabriel's School - located in Dooradoyle - said: "From its very inception in 1961, St Gabriel’s has been about putting services in place to help make life as positive as possible for children with disabilities.
"Today, St Gabriel's provides the most advanced range of clinical therapies and interventions for over 600 children. St Gabriel’s Children’s Respite House is another stage of its advancement. It’s a place for children to call their ‘home away from home’, their club, their getaway. It will be their own special space."
Mayor Collins added: “I know I’m not alone when I say St Gabriel’s holds a very special place in my heart. I have had the great privilege of seeing first-hand the wonderful work St Gabriel’s School and centre have done over the years locally in Dooradoyle.
"As St Gabriel’s embarks on this new chapter, I am excited and filled with hope. Now the dream of St Gabriel’s Respite House is finally coming into view the great need for it becomes all the more apparent.”
Also present at the launch of the fundraiser was Junior Finance Minister, local TD Patrick O'Donovan.
He said: "I know from personal visits to St. Gabriel’s School and Centre and meetings I have had with them the incredible work that they do for young people in this region with complex physical and medical needs.
"This respite house is another evolution of that. But hearing the story of Mary Quinlan and her family, whom I really want to compliment for their courage in allowing that story to be told, really brings home how absolutely essential this centre is. It will, indeed, as she says, be a game changer for over 100 families across this region and we all need to get behind it."
Consultant paediatrician and director of St Gabriel’s board, Dr Michael Mahony, stressed how important it was to care for the carers and went on to say that St Gabriel’s Children’s Respite House is designed as a bright, light filled therapeutic space and will "enhance children’s well-being as they as they come and go".
"The children who attend St. Gabriel’s are by and large children with the most complex medical conditions such as cerebral palsy, muscle disorders characterised by immobility. They may not be able to walk and need lifting support, some have feeding difficulty and have a PEG feeding tube and some children have brain injuries and seizure activity,” he said.