Charity gives Lisburn boy (6) hope in his lifelong battle with skin condition
A six-year-old Lisburn boy with eczema so extreme he can look like he has been burned has been helped by a charity just launched in Northern Ireland.
Like his friends, Matthew Quigley has returned to primary school to start his P3 year. But his severe skin condition means he is facing a real battle.
Mum Donna knew something wasn't right the day her son was born and by the time Matthew was just four months old he had been hospitalised and diagnosed with eczema and various allergies.
That was just the start of endless hospital trips and medication. But now Matthew, and his family, have been helped by a charity that has expanded into Northern Ireland.
"I don't think any of us expected the long road we would end up going down," said sales consultant Donna. "He has been in the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children in Belfast lots of times, we have tried countless topical steroids and emollients, and Matthew is now on Azathioprine, his third type of oral immunosuppressive therapy."
The therapy can help stop the itch-scratch cycle in severe eczema sufferers, but also makes the body more prone to infections as it depresses the body's immune system. As a result, any cold or minor infection can result in time off school or a stay in hospital for the pupil at Ballymacward Primary near Glenavy. "It's a very frustrating for Matthew and every time he coughs, he immediately begs not to go to hospital again. He is also getting more self-conscious about his skin and people looking at him," said Donna.
Scottish charity Eczema Outreach Support (EOS), which supports families with children that suffer from the skin condition, has now expanded into Northern Ireland. As well as offering support, the charity organises talks with dermatology professionals and pairs families up that have similar situations.
Donna and Matthew, along with mechanic dad Gareth and sister Grace (2), who does not have the condition, travelled to Edinburgh for an EOS event and found the sessions invaluable.
"To meet other parents and share tips and advice has been great. I'd love the membership to increase here and for there to be the demand to host events locally. It's just what we were looking for.
"The EOS team even came over to his school last May to host a special day on eczema and helped make him the star of the show. It's those little things that you appreciate, the support of the school, the understanding of our employers that we might have to take time off to be with him.
"Matthew has only very recently started sleeping on his own as he would tear his skin to bits in his sleep and no scratch mitts or bandages could stop him. We often had to sleep beside him and physically restrain him to stop the scratching.
"He has good days and bad days, but on the bad days we can really see his confidence dropping. And strangers can be very thoughtless with their comments and will ask what is wrong with him, or if he has been burned.
"It's not easy to deal with as parents and Matthew is always worrying about having to go back to hospital. He's been in and out seven times in the past couple of years, but just talking to other families is great and makes you feel less alone.
"At the minute there's no sign of his allergies easing off so he'll have to stay on a strict diet and we have no idea yet whether his condition will ease through time, or if this is something he will have to live with."
EOS is a free service for people dealing with eczema and you can sign up at www.eos.org.uk