Brighter future for County Antrim family

By Marie-Louise Connolly
BBC Northern Ireland health correspondent

Image caption,
Dawn spends some quality time with her three-year-old son Blaze

Christmas is a poignant time for lots of different reasons, but it is especially so if you have a very sick child.

Throughout the year, many families here face continuous hospital visits and operations with the uncertainty of not knowing what the following year will bring.

However, for one County Antrim family their story has turned out to be a positive one with the outlook for 2011 very bright indeed. Our Health Correspondent, Marie-Louise Connolly, visited them as they were preparing for Santa.

Sitting just beside the Christmas tree, Dawn spends some quality time with her three-year-old son Blaze.

While this family's story is no fairy tale, unlike previous years, at least this Christmas and the prospect for the new year, is a happy one.

When Blaze was just a few weeks old, doctors at the Antrim Area Hospital discovered he had fluid in his kidneys.

He also suffered from severe urinary infections which caused him considerable pain and discomfort.

Brighter future

But at six weeks, parents Dawn and Darren Shields were told by consultants at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children that their son had a rare condition called BHydronephrosis - where one or both kidneys become stretched and swollen.

Blaze underwent surgery at seven weeks old - the first of many operations.

While hydronephrosis isn't life threatening - if left undiagnosed, or if it isn't treated quickly enough, it can cause kidney damage or kidney failure.

As Dawn describes, there have been many hurdles along the way. Their baby was in chronic pain, had fevers and faced potential kidney failure. At one stage, Blaze had to cope with having his bladder outside his body.

With blond curls, big brown eyes and the brightest of smiles, it's hard to tell that Blaze has undergone so much surgery.

The latest operation in November proved successful. With a catheter in place, doctors at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast are hopeful that his future is looking a lot brighter.

Every year, thousands of families with sick children face similar experiences, some positive and some negative. The family now want to give something back to the hospital and the staff that they believe helped save their son's life.

They're planning to raise money for the Belfast Hospital for Sick Children. A happy ending to a story that three years ago could have turned out so differently.

For mum and dad this Christmas will be spent at home - something no gift under the tree can match.

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