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How a tragedy spawned a lifesaving gift in Ranafast

Pictured with the defibrillator are Site Agent for Deane Public Works Ltd, William Cummings, Cllr Micheal Colm Mac Giolla Easbuig, Stephen Deane of Deane Public Works Ltd, school principal Paul Russell, Chair of the Parents’ Association, John Gillespie, his son Barry and Bella Ward with Kayleigh in her arms, Emily beside her and her son Evan.

A SCHOOL defibrillator is to be dedicated in memory of a man who fell to his death from a Donegal bridge earlier this year.

Ian Smith (65), from Fermanagh, lost his life after falling from the Station Bridge into the River Clady in January.

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Following the tragedy the company Mr Smith worked for, Deane Public Works Ltd, was approached by Glenties Councillor Micheal Cholm Mac Giolla Easbuig. He asked if they would be willing to make a donation towards a defibrillator for Scoil Oliver Plunkett, Ranafast, which will be required when little Kayleigh Ward starts attending in September.

Kayleigh was born with a serious heart condition and was not expected to live beyond the first few months of her life.

Deane Public Works Ltd agreed to pay entirely for the defibrillator and it will now be placed at the school, alongside a plaque in memory of the late Mr Smith.

Five-year-old Kayleigh’s mum, Bella Ward, says the gesture will allow her daughter to participate in all school activities as she sets out on her educational journey.

“Kayleigh was born with congenital heart disease but we knew nothing about it for the first week or so,” Bella said.

“She is a twin and her and her sister, Emily, were born seven weeks early. A few days after they were born, the monitors went haywire and the doctors realised then that something wasn’t right.”

The baby’s condition was quickly confirmed however she was so poorly that she was not expected to survive. With her health deteriorating medics decided to transfer her to Crumlin Children’s Hospital.

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After working desperately for four hours to save her, Kayleigh was airlifted from Letterkenny Hospital and flown to Dublin.

The emergency team there managed to get her stabilised and she remained on the St Theresa’s Baby Cardiac Ward for eight weeks. But on the day Kayleigh was due to leave the ward, she suffered a full cardiac arrest.

She was rushed on to an ECMO machine, a device similar to that used when carrying out a heart or lung bypass. With only four of the machines in Ireland – two for children and two for adults – it was only by chance that one was available.

“We were told she would never come off this machine. They sat me and my husband Martin down and told us she wouldn’t survive the night,” mum Bella recalls.

“She stayed on it and bit by bit they started weaning her off it. But they told us that if she survived she would never walk, never talk and that she would have a learning difficulty.”

At one stage Kayleigh’s parents were told their little girl was the “sickest child in Ireland”. Had she been well enough she would have been transferred to a specialist unit in Norway but with her life in the balance, travel was not an option.

Despite the grim diagnosis though, the little girl continued to defy the odds though and battled through the weeks, the months and eventually the years.

A healthy and happy Kayleigh Ward today. Once described as ‘the sickest wee girl in Ireland’, Kayleigh is looking forward to her first day at school in September.

The defibrillator will allow Kayleigh to do everything her classmates do, including sports and days away.

“It is a big piece of mind,” said Bella.

Double trouble…Kayleigh with her twin sister Emily.

The fact that the late Ian Smith’s name will be placed alongside the life saving device was a “lovely gesture” and said she was very grateful to Cllr Mac Giolla Easbuig for his help.

Cllr Mac Giolla Easbuig added, “Fair play to Deane’s for contributing the full amount. Let’s hope the defibrillator never has to be used but at least it is there and the fact it is in memory of Ian Smith, it is a positive that came from an awful tragedy.”

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