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Cannabis oil plea girl home from hospital

By Jenna Gardiner

Newtownards girl Sophia Gibson has been released from hospital as her family await a decision from the Home Office on a medicinal cannabis licence.

After her condition improved in the last 24 hours, the seven-year-old's parents Danielle and Darren were told yesterday morning she could return home.

Danielle said: "Our wee fighter has amazed us once again."

Sophia, who suffers from a rare form of epilepsy, suffered a severe seizure on Tuesday and was placed in an induced coma at the intensive care unit of the Royal Victoria Hospital.

Her parents have been fighting for over 18 months to secure a licence for the medicinal cannabis treatment she desperately needs.

Sophia's case is being reviewed by a Home Office expert panel, led by Dr Michael McBride, the Chief Medical Officer for Northern Ireland.

Danielle explained that a positive outcome would allow them to travel to Holland to bring her medication to Northern Ireland legally, as well as paving the way for a long-term licence administered through the NHS.

She said: "We know there is a high mortality rate for children like Sophia with Dravet Syndrome, but it's a last-ditch attempt to help her."

The family say that medicinal cannabis oil will not stop Sophia's seizures, but would make them significantly less frequent and severe.

"It's not a cure, but we have exhausted every other avenue," said Danielle.

The Home Office does not comment on individual applications, but a spokesperson said: "We completely sympathise with the families who have been facing desperate situations."

"In Northern Ireland licensing decisions are devolved, and any recommendations would be considered by the Department of Health in Northern Ireland".

After Sophia came around from her sedation on Wednesday, she was transferred to the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald.

Yesterday she managed to sit up and talk to her family, eat her breakfast and walk to the hospital playroom with her dad Darren.

Doctors then decided that there was nothing more that could be done for Sophia which her parents are not already doing back at home and allowed her to be discharged.

Her dad Darren also received medical attention on Tuesday for an elevated heart rate, caused by the stress and worry he experienced when his daughter fell ill.

Danielle said that Sophia's two-year-old brother Nathan was also distressed by her plight.

The family are in contact with Yvonne Cahalane, whose son Tristan Forde became the first person in the Republic of Ireland to legally secure the use of medical cannabis in 2016.

They are also receiving support from Hannah Deacon whose son Alfie Dingley received the same licence that Sophia needs, only last month.

"I've made friends in these unfortunate circumstances," said Danielle. "They are mothers the same as I am who have children that are so very sick."

The family originally submitted an application for Sophia's medication and underwent an 18-month long process, before being told they must apply through the Home Office's new expert panel.

Danielle said: "It has taken months for the Department of Health to determine what we need to do, and if it is even a devolved matter".

"The main step now is getting a 'yes', that the licence has been approved by the panel."

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