Belfast Telegraph

Limavady woman reunited with surgeon who saved her life with pioneering operation

By Joanne Sweeney

A baby girl who was sent home from hospital to die because of an inoperable tumour has had an emotional reunion with one of the surgeons who saved her — 19 years on.

Amy Patterson had the first opportunity yesterday to say thanks to Downpatrick-born Dr Gerry O’Reilly for his role in the pioneering operation.

The eminent neurosurgeon embraced Amy and her parents Hazel and Trevor at their Limavady home, fulfilling a promise he made last year to pay them a visit.

When Amy turned 21 in October her mother was so thankful for the years she and Trevor feared they’d never have with her, that she sought out the surgeons who gave them hope where other doctors could not.

Amy told the Belfast Telegraph: “It was unbelievable and a bit surreal to finally meet Dr O’Reilly, as I’ve heard so much from my parents about him over the years.

“My mother actually had tears in her eyes when she saw him again. He was there for my parents during the good days and bad, and they are very thankful to him.”

Mrs Patterson added: “This was a very special day for us all.

“It’s very humbling that someone like Dr O’Reilly could come today to visit us.

“Gerry was a friend to us as well during that very frightening time, he walked the journey with us.

“Men like him just do not get the recognition that they deserve and today is all about saying thanks.”

Amy was a healthy and lively 16-month-old when she was discovered to have a rare tumour in her spinal cord.

After a stay in Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital back in 1996, her parents heard the stark news that their daughter’s condition was incurable.

“Amy was sent home to die,” said the mother-of-three.

“It was heartbreaking for us. I was pregnant at the time with Amy’s sister Hannah, and we couldn’t wrap our heads around losing our first-born.

“It was so difficult to watch her suffer, especially because she deteriorated so quickly.”

The tot was in so much pain that her parents could not touch her or hold her for fear of making it worse.

The Limavady woman was so desperate that she began to investigate Amy’s condition, and contacted Birmingham Children’s Hospital for help. Consultant neurosurgeon Dr Tony Hockley, now deceased, agreed to attempt to remove the tumour, assisted by his then senior registrar Dr O’Reilly, but he could not give the Pattersons much hope until theatre, where he could see what he was dealing with.

Following a 13-hour operation to remove the tumour, Amy fought  off a further 12 life-threatening conditions including meningitis and septicaemia during her recovery period.

The story of her miraculous return to health was told on the front page of the Belfast Telegraph when the family returned home to Northern Ireland.

But afterwards Amy had to relearn all her motor and language skills, and still has a weakness on the left side of her body, which makes it difficult for her to do some things.

The language and linguistics student intends to be a children’s special needs teacher.

She also helps her mother out at the family’s Crindle Stables.

Dr O’Reilly, now a consultant at Spire Hull and East Riding Hospital in Yorkshire, admitted that he was overcome with a mixture of “pride and delight” when the Pattersons got in touch with him via a Facebook appeal they made last year.

The neurosurgeon, well-known for wearing cartoon character ties when working with young children, said: “Throughout the setbacks and challenging times the family carried themselves with a dignity and serenity.

“They were always respectful and appreciative to all.”

Belfast Telegraph Digital


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