Miracle crash survivor Grainne Mallon returned home yesterday - just over three months after doctors feared a horrific schoolbus accident would claim her life.
Grainne (10) was discharged from the Royal Children's Hospital after a second bout of surgery to repair the severe head injuries she suffered in the accident that claimed the life of her 16-year-old cousin, Nicola Murray, in February.
The battling little girl is well on her way to a complete recovery as her family set out today to raise money for the specialist ward where surgeons saved Grainne against the odds.
Her mum, Sinead, said: "It just goes to show that there is hope for people with serious head injuries. You can recover."
The family is taking part in a five-mile sponsored walk today to raise money for the Paul Ward, where Grainne was treated after the February 27 crash, as a way of saying thank you to the medics who saved her life.
Grainne and Nicola were the back seat passengers in their schoolbus when it was struck from behind by a lorry on the A4 near Ballygawley. Both children had to be cut from the wreckage.
Grainne, a P6 pupil, was rushed to Craigavon Hospital and quickly moved to the specialist head unit in the Royal Childrens' Hospital. Doctors there warned Sinead and her husband Christy to prepare for the worst.
There were fears she would not last through her first weekend in hospital. But she astonished medics and her family by quickly coming off a life support machine and within two weeks of the accident she had spoken again.
She spent five weeks in the Royal before being allowed home temporarily on her tenth birthday in April. She returned for a final round of surgery and yesterday was given a complete discharge.
Grainne returned to the family home outside Dungannon and was quickly back to playing with her two sisters, Eimear and Orlaith, and brother Peter, who was also injured in the accident.
Her return home has been a bright spot for the Mallon family as they mourn the loss of Nicola. The two girls lived across the road from each other as part of a close-knit family unit. They were among seven cousins on the bus when the crash happened.
Grainne made her first return to school during her first stay at home, although she has not yet gone back full time.
"School is what's really normalised her," said Sinead. "She got her uniform herself and it's back to a routine, and you just get on with things."
Grainne hasn't been back on a schoolbus since the accident, but Sinead expects she will after she goes back to school full time — although she said she'll let her oldest child go at her own pace.
"We're just delighted to get her back," said Sinead. "She's made a rapid and full recovery.
"It really has been a miracle. We just wanted to say thanks to everyone — from the people who treated her in the Paul Ward to the people who organised the walk."
The five-mile walk is due to take place at five o'clock this afternoon, starting and finishing at Aughnagar Chapel, which is about two miles from the A4 on the road by Finlay Engineering. A buffet supper will take place afterwards in Quinn's Corner on the A4.
Anyone wishing to make a donation to support the Paul Ward is invited to ring Patrick James Donnelly on 028 87758803 or Ciaran McKeown on 87758886.
Grainne's family is continuing to call for improved safety features on school buses, which they say could save other young lives and prevent injuries. As a result of their campaign, the Executive is looking at installing flashing lights that would warn motorists when school vehicles are stopping or turning.