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Dromore boy Finlay now living in Royal Belfast Hospital as he waits on new heart becoming available

Like ships in the night, newlywed mum and dad pass each other in the car park, one heading home to see their eldest, the other bedding down in the Royal beside little Finlay

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Finlay Pollock (3) has spent most of his young life in and out of hospital. This yearhe has been placed on the urgent heart transplant list.

Finlay Pollock (3) has spent most of his young life in and out of hospital. This yearhe has been placed on the urgent heart transplant list.

Finlay Pollock (3) has spent most of his young life in and out of hospital. This yearhe has been placed on the urgent heart transplant list.

Finlay Pollock (3) has spent most of his young life in and out of hospital. This yearhe has been placed on the urgent heart transplant list.

Finlay Pollock (3) has spent most of his young life in and out of hospital. This yearhe has been placed on the urgent heart transplant list.

Finlay Pollock (3) has spent most of his young life in and out of hospital. This yearhe has been placed on the urgent heart transplant list.

Sarah Pollock and Husband Thomas are the parents of Finlay Pollock (3). Finlay  has spent most of his young life in and out of hospital. This yearhe has been placed on the urgent heart transplant list.

Sarah Pollock and Husband Thomas are the parents of Finlay Pollock (3). Finlay has spent most of his young life in and out of hospital. This yearhe has been placed on the urgent heart transplant list.

Finlay Pollock with his big brother Alfie(8) .  Finlay (3) has spent most of his young life in and out of hospital. This yearhe has been placed on the urgent heart transplant list

Finlay Pollock with his big brother Alfie(8) . Finlay (3) has spent most of his young life in and out of hospital. This yearhe has been placed on the urgent heart transplant list

Finlay Pollock (3) has spent most of his young life in and out of hospital. This yearhe has been placed on the urgent heart transplant list.

Finlay Pollock (3) has spent most of his young life in and out of hospital. This yearhe has been placed on the urgent heart transplant list.

Sarah Pollock with her son Finlay.  Finlay Pollock (3) has spent most of his young life in and out of hospital. This yearhe has been placed on the urgent heart transplant list.

Sarah Pollock with her son Finlay. Finlay Pollock (3) has spent most of his young life in and out of hospital. This yearhe has been placed on the urgent heart transplant list.

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Finlay Pollock (3) has spent most of his young life in and out of hospital. This yearhe has been placed on the urgent heart transplant list.

This last year has been a difficult one for most of us but for one family from Dromore, Co Down, it has been particularly devastating.

Finlay Pollock (3) has spent most of his young life in and out of hospital. This year he has been placed on the urgent heart transplant list.

His mum Sarah (39) describes how the past year has been harrowing for the whole family as they have had to come to terms with Finlay's diagnosis - but choking back the tears she also talks of the bittersweet moments they have shared in between.

Sarah, a former legal secretary, is married to Thomas (47) and they also have son Alfie (8).

"Finlay was always a chesty baby and one who had a cough from he was about six months old," Sarah recalls.

"When he was 18 months he hadn't been well all day and mum suggested I take him to the doctors. The doctor said if he was no better by 6pm to take him to A&E in Craigavon Area Hospital."

The date was February 4, 2019, a date that is etched on this mother's mind as everything changed that day.

"In the evening we took Finlay to the hospital and they thought he had bronchitis. The doctor says she's still not sure what made her X-ray Finlay as they don't normally do a chest X-ray on babies but when they did, it revealed he had an enlarged heart."

Sarah believes someone was looking over them at this time, as after that things moved very quickly and changed dramatically for this young family.

"I've since seen X-rays of Finlay's heart and the only way I can describe it is it looks like an Easter egg lying on its side."

That night in hospital the doctors in Craigavon did an echo scan over Skype with consultant Andrew Sands in the Royal Hospital for Sick Children. When they saw the echo they asked for Finlay to be brought straight down.

"I think that night I was oblivious and went into a state of shock," explains Sarah.

"We were rushed by ambulance to the Royal and Thomas met us there. We were met by a team of doctors who were waiting on us and suddenly the reality and severity of the situation kicked in. I knew this was serious.

"They carried out another heart echo and there and then we were sat down and told that Finlay had two conditions, restrictive cardiomyopathy and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. We were told it was rare to have both and that basically his heart was enlarged and he would ultimately need a heart transplant."

Naturally, for Sarah and Thomas their world fell apart that night but they had to remain strong and resolute for their two young boys.

Over the next month Finlay was kept in hospital and during this time the family was flown to Newcastle to the Freeman Hospital for a transplant assessment. They received a glimmer of hope that Finlay was holding his own and did not need to go on the urgent transplant list right away.

A week later, the family returned home and became a formidable foursome again.

"Apart from all the medication he was on, Finlay was a normal happy toddler for the following year but there was always that niggle in the back of our heads that life wouldn't always be like that for him," says Sarah (right with Finlay).

"By Christmas 2019, we had started to notice he was becoming very tired and breathless.

"The doctors were keeping a close eye on him all the time which was reassuring."

Sarah and Thomas had planned to marry in May 2020. Like so many other couples their plans changed when Covid-19 hit and their wedding in Brownlow House in Lurgan was cancelled. It was rescheduled for September but then cancelled again.

"I had everything planned and organised for the wedding - dress bought and everything. Finlay was taken over to Freeman for another assessment in August and it was decided he needed to go on the urgent list. He was allowed home for a month which was a miracle and we decided we didn't want to wait any longer and we planned a wedding very quickly for my mum's back garden on September 12 last year.

"It was a magical day. It was just us and my two brothers Paul and John and their wives and children and my mum. It was a truly magical day and I wouldn't change it. In the end I wore a dress from Next. It was simple but special as we were altogether as a family unit.

"We've made a promise that when Finlay has had his operation and recovered and Covid is over, we will have a big party and I'll get to wear my dress."

A month later Sarah and Finlay were back in hospital and for a week Finlay was in intensive care. They then received the news they had been dreading. He would have to stay in hospital until he got his transplant as he needed specialist medication and care.

"Life now is surreal," explains Sarah again through choked back tears.

"Finlay and I are in hospital and I sleep beside him every night on a camp bed. His dad comes down at night after work and I go home for a couple of hours to see Alfie and get a shower. I also try to stay at home one night at the weekend which allows Thomas to stay at the hospital.

"Alfie has been amazing throughout this whole time but it isn't easy on him. On top of his mum and brother being away, he has been taken out of school and is missing all his friends.

"He is a real trooper and knows it won't be for ever. I am so thankful to my mum and brothers who have helped so much - they help with home schooling and all the practical things."

The newlyweds are lucky if they get five minutes together a day as they do a switch over in the hospital car park.

"It's been a bittersweet year for sure," adds Sarah. "But we have had amazing support. The people of Dromore and beyond have rallied round us and people have been leaving food and parcels on the doorstep. They also did a sponsored walk called Footsteps for Finlay which raised over £10,000 for the Children's Heartbeat Trust.

"The trust have been amazing and are always there for us. They have helped us financially as well - it's been expensive with extra diesel going back and forth to the hospital every day. They have been a wonderful source of support.

"Everyone at the Royal from the top consultants to the cleaners we can't thank enough. Finlay is very sociable and he talks to everyone and everyone knows him - even the cleaners have been sneaking him in sweets and buns for me. People are so kind and thoughtful."

However, there is one thing Sarah would like people to think about and that is having the transplant conversation with their loved ones.

Covid has affected all medical procedures including vital organ transplants. Organs cannot be used if someone in the household where the donor lives has had Covid and though it sounds unpalatable, people are not out playing as much or in cars so there are fewer accidents.

Sarah admits that she finds that part of their journey difficult, that in order for her son to live and get the heart he so desperately needs - unfortunately the harsh reality is another child or young person has to die.

"I can't think about that right now," she stresses. "Our bags are packed and night or day as soon as the call comes we will be away. We will be flown to Newcastle as soon as a match is found.

"Until then I just take every day as it comes. This is our life now and Finlay's strength somehow pulls us all through."


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