ALWAYS SMILING The late Gearóid Murphy pictured beside the Slievemore signal tower in Achill in May 2014. Slievemore is one of the three peaks which will be scaled this weekend in the fourth annual Amazing Gearóid's 3 Peak Challenge.
Tuesday afternoon last in Mayo University Hospital. Outside it is one of the best days of the year. A day sent from the heavens and one perfect for kids to enjoy the great outdoors.
However, for children on the paediatric ward in Mayo University Hospital there is no such luck. They are trapped inside, not able to soak up the sunshine.
If you’re feeling sorry for yourself at all, it won’t be long wearing off you after a visit to Paediatrics.
There’s something so unjust about sick children. On Tuesday there was the whole gambit, from children with mild bugs and fevers to more serious conditions. But there’s a little bit of magic going on there too.
Niamh Clancy pops around the ward asking parents and their children if they would like to join in the fun in the playroom.
Several agree and before you know it, the mood of children is transformed. From little toddlers who were crying after having bloods taken to older kids who want to be anywhere but in hospital, Paediatrics is a tough place to be. But once they are in the playroom, all is right with the world.
Toddlers ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ at the wonder of the large doll house, a one-year-old boy marvels at the tractors on show, while older girls use their imagination to cook up a storm for their parents. The pancake with tomato ketchup is highly recommended.
For kids who have been experiencing a tough time, it is manna from heaven. And parents, worn out by the rigours of seeing their child sick and waiting and hoping for an improvement, welcome this relief from the stress of the day.
As the kids play, Niamh Clancy moves between them, playing and doting on the kids, enriching the experience.
Her role is a play therapist, and what none of the parents here realise is the journey behind her appointment at Mayo University Hospital.
The Murphy family from Pollagh on Achill Island know only too well the trauma involved when your child is sick.
When Cormac and Mary Murphy’s son Gearóid was still in playschool, he was diagnosed with kidney cancer and underwent treatment for one year.
He came out the other side and the Murphys thought they could breathe a sigh of relief. But four months later it was back, bigger than ever.
This time the cancer was in both lungs and in Gearóid’s stomach. In August 2014, surgery was planned but, by then, the cancer was too advanced and Gearóid was given just weeks to live. He passed away that September, an abhorrent situation for any parent to find themselves in. He was just six years of age.
It’s impossible to comprehend how awful that period must have been for Mary and Cormac Murphy and their four other children, Eoin, Oisín, Áine and Eilís, and the wider Murphy and McNamara families.
But the Murphys were determined to make a difference for others and to remember their little boy.
They set up a fundraiser that aimed to raise awareness of childhood cancer, to provide therapeutic breaks for families enduring that journey and to help provide a play therapist at Mayo University Hospital.
The decision on what to name the fundraising effort was easy. Even when he was sick, Gearóid Murphy wore a wide smile. Gearóid’s Smile was born.
They are approaching year four of the fundraising efforts, and in recent weeks Niamh Clancy started work in Mayo University Hospital. She would not be in her role right now were it not for funds raised in memory of Gearóid Murphy.
“We are totally uplifted and overwhelmed by the support to date for Gearóid’s Smile to allow us to be in the position of funding a Play Therapist in Mayo University Hospital, not only to fund a play therapist but to have been the driving force behind ensuring a play therapist is available in Mayo University Hospital, as is the case in all other hospitals in the Saolta (North West) group,” Mary Murphy told The Mayo News.
“Thanks also to all the staff of the paediatric ward and hospital management who welcomed us from day one of our proposal of funding the play therapist.
“We knew from the start that we wanted something that would positively impact the paediatric ward and a service that would aid the nursing staff who take a child, their parents and brothers and sisters under their wing.
“A play therapist is an integral part of a child’s hospital stay. Looking back at Gearóid’s admissions to Mayo University Hospital, of which there were many, and Gearóid being isolated for all admissions, which is protocol for children on a childhood cancer journey, a play therapist would have helped to brighten some of those days, even though the nurses went above and beyond always.
“Play therapy is different. Toys are children’s words and play is children’s language. Play therapy allows a child to work through situations that may arise in a child-friendly way in the hospital setting. It is child focused and the child is at the centre of the situation.
“The play therapist being available will definitely alleviate some anxiety, stress, worry and answer some questions that a child may have and this is all positive,” said Mary Murphy.
3 Peak Challenge
While there are scores of smaller fundraisers for Gearóid’s Smile, the main one every year is Amazing Gearóid’s 3 Peak Challenge, which takes place this Saturday.
It consists of climbs of Achill’s three highest peaks - Croaghan, Slievemore and Minaun.
The base for the day is Dooagh NS, where Gearóid went to school. There will be coffee and tea available there from 5am and climbing of Croaghan, on the extreme west of Achill Island, commences at 6am.
Climbing of Slievemore gets underway at 10.30am while there will also be a Baile Slievemore Walk at the same time for those who would prefer flatter ground. There will be a remembrance balloon release before this walk.
At 2.30pm climbing of Minaun gets underway. John Corrigan Transport will be there on the day to transport climbers from Dooagh NS to the climbs and back again.
Registration forms and sponsorship forms are available by emailing email@example.com, going to Gearóid’s Smile page on Facebook, from the following locations: Achill Sound Tourist Office, Achill Sound Post Office, Molloy’s Lifestyle Pharmacy, by contacting Gearóid’s Smile Crew members Emer, Ciara, Fiona, Gráinne or Gearóid’s dad or mum or by ringing 086 0624309.
Registration is €20 per person, a family is €40. Late registration on the morning is €5 extra.
Registration is open in Dooagh NS on Friday, June 1 from 6pm to 8pm.
The Murphys say they have been blown away by the support they have received throughout Gearóid’s illness and since his tragic passing.
“From once Gearóid was diagnosed on May 25, 2012, the people of Achill put their arms around us and have never let go since.
“Following Gearóid going home I personally needed to hear Gearóid’s name again for my own sanity and Gearóid’s story could not just end there. Gearóid’s smile continued but in a different form.
“It still holds the essence of our amazing beautiful boy Gearóid and contains kindness, love, support, help and friendship that needs to be seen to be believed.
“Achill is a small island but one mighty big rock when life throws a curve ball in your direction. It is extremely special that Gearóid’s memory lives on in such a special way,” said Gearóid’s mum.
Two mottos signify the message the Murphy family seek to spread through Gearóid’s Smile. One is #EnjoyLifeDontEndureIt and the second is #WalkYourOwnPathLeaveATrail.
Gearóid Murphy left a lasting impression on those who knew him in his six short years on earth. His legacy continues to shine through the smiles of children in the paediatric ward of Mayo University Hospital.