My birthday wish was to see my sister wake from coma, says little Chloe
Family tells of heartache as young mum Joleen remains critical after savage attack
As her 12th birthday approached, Chloe Corr hoped with all her heart her big sister would be awake to celebrate it with her, to help open her presents and blow out the candles.
But sadly, as her family gathered to sing happy birthday last week, 26-year-old Joleen continued to lie critically ill in hospital -more than two months after a savage attack left her in a coma.
"We took Chloe's cake up to the hospital and sang happy birthday round Joleen's bed," said heartbroken mum Carol. "I held Joleen's hand and told her it was Chloe's birthday, hoping she'd hear and understand what was going on, but we just don't know. It was tough for Chloe, but she wanted to be there with her sister."
Mum-of-one Joleen was left for dead with devastating head injuries in Downpatrick on December 2. Her ex-partner Michael O'Connor has been remanded in custody on suspicion of attempted murder and a bail application was turned down this week. He is due to appear at Downpatrick Magistrates Court next month.
"We're still holding out hope," said Carol. "But we've almost given up on a miracle at this stage. The doctor has told us Joleen's injuries are horrendous, and we're resigned to the fact now she'll never be the same girl again."
Joleen, who is being cared for at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, is now able to open her eyes but remains unresponsive and critically ill.
"It's heartbreaking to see my wee girl like this," said mum-of-five Carol. "She's just not herself, and her wee bones are seizing up because of her head injury and she needs an awful lot of care. It's hard for all of us. Chloe and her younger sister Christine who is only nine come up to see her at the hospital every other day after school. Like all of us, they keep hoping to see an improvement, but it's very difficult when nothing seems to be getting better."
Carol and her daughters do their best to treat Joleen at her bedside - pampering her and even playing her favourite music on the ward.
"The nurses are brilliant," said Carol. "They let us change her every day into her own favourite wee pyjama tops, and give her her own pillow cases and things from home. I do her eyebrows and put cream on her face and her wee legs and make sure she's got her favourite perfume on. Christine moisturises her hands every time she's up there, and tells her she needs to hurry up and wake up, so she can get her nails painted again. Doing all that helps us keep in touch with her."
And giving Carol some strength are the lyrics of her determined daughter's favourite song - Fight Song by Rachel Platten.
"It's weird that that's Jolene's favourite song, and it gives me something to think about," said Carol. "The lyrics are all about staying strong so I've got that in my mind. And she's staying strong too because her heart is beating on its own and she's able to breathe.
"But it's difficult. Joleen's my oldest - I have her brother Jim and her sister Cherie as well - and it's very hard for everyone. I'm having counselling at the minute, to deal with what's going on, and it may be that the kids need some help in the future too."
Forefront in Carol's mind is Joleen's two-year-old son. "He's being looked after, but it's horrendous to think of a wee boy without his mummy, like, she should be there," said Carol, from West Belfast. "And it's hard to try to reassure everyone when we're not sure what the outcome will be.
"We're such a close family, and Joleen was hoping to move back to Belfast from Downpatrick. She'd come up here with my grandson to stay with me quite a lot and although we had our rows like every family, we got on so well. We have to keep going for Joleen. She's such a lovely mummy, she absolutely dotes on her wee boy so hopefully she'll make some signs of improvement."
And Carol is grateful for all the support the family have had since Joleen's life-shattering injuries turned their lives upside down.
"People have been amazing," she said. "Joleen's father Joseph McNerney has barely been away from her bedside since it happened. We haven't been together for a very long time, but he's been fantastic. And our friends and the local community have really shown us a lot of support. Until something like this happens to your own child you just don't realise how devastating it is, so we're grateful to everyone who has shown us so much kindness."
To help mark Chloe's birthday the Belfast Telegraph and the Irish Football Association have arranged for football-mad Chloe and her sister Christine to go to the Northern Ireland game against Norway at Windsor Park next month.
"The girls are really pleased," said Carol. "That's brilliant and it will give them something to look forward to."