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Co Armagh mum says impact of NI’s first children’s ambulance will be ‘huge’

Pictured at the launch of NI’s first children’s ambulance are, from left, Joanne McCallister, Chief Executive of Children’s Heartbeat Trust, Christine McCaughey, from Craigavon, and her son, Blake, Ciaran McKenna, Assistant Director of Operations at NIAS and Emma Thompson, Lead Nurse at NISTAR

A County Armagh mum has commented following the launch of Northern Ireland’s first bespoke children’s ambulance by the Children’s Heartbeat Trust this week.

Christine McCaughey, from Craigavon, says that the impact will be “huge” for local families.

Christine’s 15-year-old son, Blake, is one of approximately 200 children born with congenital heart disease every year in Northern Ireland. Ten years ago, Blake was diagnosed with a leaking aortic valve and complex congenital heart disease, which has led to hospital stays for the most part of the last four years.

According to statistics from the Northern Ireland Specialist Transport and Retrieval (NISTAR), 123 trips were made to or from Dublin for children needing cardiac treatment or surgery in the last 12 months – 87% of these were made by children under the age of one, with the remaining journeys made by children and young people aged between one and 16-years-old.

Following a hugely successful ‘Mile A Day’ fundraising campaign in 2021 in which over £133,000 was raised by the public for the Children’s Heartbeat Trust, the £126,466 bespoke ambulance was commissioned by the charity and the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service, with support from the NISTAR service.

Speaking about Blake’s diagnosis, Christine said: “Congenital heart disease is just one of Blake’s medical conditions which means that he tires easily and is fed through Total Parenteral Nutrition (TPN).

“TPN feeding is accessed through a central line that goes directly to his heart twice a day, meaning that Blake is exposed to constant risk of sepsis. Due to Blake’s complex conditions, he requires ongoing cardiac care, medication and 24-hour care at all times”, Christine explained.

As well as being fully equipped with the latest specialist medical equipment, the ambulance has a number of features including space themed décor on the interior walls, sensory equipment to calm younger children and PlayStation and Tablet facilities. The ambulance is also adapted with wheelchair tracks, enabling older children to make the journey in a wheelchair as opposed to a trolley.

Stating that the impact of the new children’s ambulance will be “huge,” Christine continued: “When travelling, it’s best if Blake is able to lie flat, both physically and psychologically, so the children’s ambulance will make the process of travelling much easier for him.

“Having access to sensory equipment throughout the journey will also help him to associate the ambulance transfers with calmness and familiarity rather than the anxiety he currently experiences during transfers from previous trauma.

“I would like to thank Children’s Heartbeat Trust, NIAS and NISTAR for providing this much-needed service.”

Joanne McCallister, Chief Executive of Children’s Heartbeat Trust added: “Through our work, we’ve seen first-hand just how stressful travelling backwards and forwards to hospital with a very sick child can be for families. It is a very traumatic time for both children and parents, who often have to take time off work to care for their child which can lead to financial pressures, especially in the current economic climate.

Children’s Heartbeat Trust already supports families via a number of services and our main motivation behind the creation of the ambulance was wanting to make perhaps one the most frightening and difficult journeys that little bit easier.

“We hope that the interior look and feel of the ambulance, alongside all the entertainment features available, will put children and their parents at ease and take their minds off the hospital treatment ahead.”

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