Belfast Telegraph

Parents of 'little warrior' John Joe (11) devastated after he dies of suspected heart attack

By Cate McCurry

The parents of an 11-year-old who died from a suspected heart attack said the loss of their "precious little boy" has left them devastated.

John Joe Toner collapsed at St Malachy's Primary School in Ballymoyer, Co Armagh, last Thursday morning.

The schoolboy suffered from congenital heart disease.

Staff at the primary school, who were aware of his heart defect, rushed to his aid in a desperate attempt to save him.

He was taken to hospital but died on Tuesday evening.

His parents, Maria and Cormac Toner, thanked those who reached out to help the family.

In a statement they said: "We are totally devastated at the loss of our precious little boy.

"We wish to extend our thanks to everyone who prayed for him and attended vigils.

"A heartfelt thanks to the medical team in Daisy Hill and to the Clarke Clinic in the Royal Victoria Hospital, Belfast who supported us through this difficult time. We would ask that people keep us in their thoughts and prayers in the coming days and weeks."

Tributes have been pouring in for the Clady schoolboy who has been described as a "little warrior" by many who knew him.

To help raise support for the boy after his sudden collapse, many friends and family members changed their Facebook profile pictures to a woven red heart.

A prayer service was held in John Joe's memory to support his family last night at St Malachy's Church in Ballymoyer, where he was an altar boy.

Sharon Haughey-Grimley, an SDLP councillor for the area, said the community of Clady and the surrounding areas have rallied behind the family in support.

She said: "John Joe has been very much part of the community in many ways. Everyone has been left absolutely devastated by his death.

"He was a very valued member of our community and our prayers are with Maria and Cormac and his two brothers, Michael and Daniel, at this sad and very difficult time.

"I want to thank the local community for their compassion and prayers that they have given to the Toner family since he took ill last Thursday.

"The strength of the community spirit has been unbelievable and I know the family has found comfort in that.

"I urge the whole community to keep the Toner family in their prayers in the coming days and weeks. His death is so sad."

Parish priest Fr Malachy Murphy also extended his sympathies to the family.

"The prayer vigils that have been held will now be the greatest of comfort and support to all of John Joe's family and friends in the coming days," he said.

Declan Cunnane, who is the chief executive of Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke, also passed on condolences to the Toner family.

"Three years ago we funded a research programme to get a better understanding of congenital heart disease," he said.

"The Baby Hearts Study is currently being carried out by Professor Helen Dolk, Ulster University and Dr Frank Casey at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children and they hope to present their findings in April of this year.

"We know this is too late for John Joe's family.

"However, we hope they will gain some comfort from knowing that we are fighting against this terrible disease to try and stop another family having to deal with a similar tragedy. "

Funeral mass will take place in St Michael's Church, Clady, tomorrow at 11am.

John Joe is survived by his parents and brothers, Michael and Daniel.

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