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Spirit of NI: Co Antrim dad an inspiration to others after losing wife and caring for disabled son

NI man starts blog to talk about men’s health and cerebral palsy

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Keelan Burns with his late wife Laura

Keelan Burns with his late wife Laura

Keelan Burns with his late wife Laura

Life has dealt Co Antrim man Keelan Burns a series of devastating blows but the father of one has bounced back from immense personal tragedy to inspire others.

Keelan, who won our 2019 Overcoming Adversity Award, a Spirit of Northern Ireland Awards category sponsored this year by Hinch Distillery, lost his beautiful wife Laura very suddenly in 2018.

Laura (32), who was a respected nursing sister and ward manager in Antrim Area Hospital, was also a doting mother to their young son Lorcan (4) who has dyskinetic quadriplegic cerebral palsy.

While grieving the loss of his beautiful wife Keelan, who had lost his own mum when he just six years old to breast cancer, was devastated that Lorcan would also now grow up without his mother.

He started a blog talking about men’s health and cerebral palsy on Instagram which very quickly had thousands of followers.

Keelan explains just how big a loss Laura was to their son: “Laura idolised Lorcan and he is a child that needs his mum more than most.

“I’ve just kept going by praying which gives me great comfort and my mindset is good and I have great support from family and friends.

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INSPIRATIONAL: Keelan Burns receiving his award from Pamela Ballantine in 2019

INSPIRATIONAL: Keelan Burns receiving his award from Pamela Ballantine in 2019

INSPIRATIONAL: Keelan Burns receiving his award from Pamela Ballantine in 2019

“I try to live every day for Laura and Lorcan. I just think of what would make Laura proud and I am trying to be the best dad that I can.”

Keelan met Laura in February 2009 when they he was working as administrator on a ward that Laura was nursing on.

They got engaged in March 2012 and married in 2014.

Their world seemed complete when little Lorcan came along on December 19, 2016.

His diagnosis of dyskinetic quadriplegic cerebral palsy was a crushing blow but Keelan says Laura soon became her son’s advocate.

He says: “Laura was a brilliant mum and there were no lengths she wouldn’t go to to advocate for Lorcan and make sure he got the best care and his needs were met. She was absolutely dedicated to him.”

Laura was in bed with Lorcan in the early hours of December 9, 2018 when she developed a severe migraine.

She lost consciousness and her heart stopped beating. Although paramedics did get her heart beating again, her condition deteriorated.

Keelan was at his brother’s home having a rare night away to watch a major sporting event when Laura took ill.

He recalls: “It was like she was here one minute and gone the next. I was never away from home but had agreed that night to stay over at my brother’s new apartment to watch the American football.

“I left her that afternoon and never got to speak to her again. We had planned to take Lorcan to see Santa the next morning and she told me to be home early.

“I never was out of the house overnight and it is the weirdest thing, it is almost like I wasn’t meant to be there.”

Keelan was told Laura had suffered catastrophic brain injury as a result of a lack of oxygen.

Facing a future without his beautiful wife, he threw himself into caring for their son and launched his blog to create awareness of grief and also of cerebral palsy, inspiring people around the world.

He was humbled to be singled out for a Spirit of Northern Ireland Award and says: “It was mind blowing as I am just a normal guy. My story might seem out of the ordinary but I’m just a dad standing by my son.”

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BOND: Keelan and his son Lorcan

BOND: Keelan and his son Lorcan

BOND: Keelan and his son Lorcan

As we invite you to nominate for this year’s Overcoming Adversity Award, Dr Terry Cross OBE of our sponsors Hinch Distillery summed up its importance.

He said: “Life can be very challenging at times and the coronavirus pandemic has revealed how fragile everyday life is. In the last 12 months people have had to adapt to working from home, home schooling and not being able to visit family and friends. In spite of such dramatic changes, we have witnessed an upsurge in community spirit.

“Frontline workers went above and beyond to ensure our society continued to function and people rallied to support the vulnerable who were being asked to stay at home.

“People were keen to do whatever they could to help others, irrespective of their own ability, like Captain Sir Tom Moore who at 99 years of age raised almost £33m for NHS charities by walking laps of his garden. It is this resolve to overcome adversity that we want to recognise.”

Dr Cross said the team in his own company Hinch Distillery was defined by how it responded to the events of the past year.

He adds: “We believe that by being your best ‘you’, you can be a catalyst for positive change which benefits our wider community.

“During the pandemic, when hand sanitiser was impossible to source because production wasn’t meeting demand, we distributed hand sanitiser free-of-charge to extremely vulnerable groups in our society. This highlights the Hinch Distillery team’s belief that ‘aspirations beyond the ordinary’ make things possible and that is why we’re proud to be sponsoring the Overcoming Adversity award.”


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