Published Date: 17 July 2009
Dressed in pink from head to toe, two year-old Eva McLaughlin skips across the kitchen floor pushing a yellow toy shopping trolley.
“I’m going to the Spar,” chirps the blonde-haired Magilligan girl.
Seconds later, she sits by her pink toy piano and tells mum Cathy: “I’m going to play a song.”
Moments later Eva is off again, this time down the hall chatting.
Anyone meeting Eva for the first time would think she is just an ordinary toddler, full of energy and into everything.
But Eva is anything but ordinary.
“She’s a miracle, she really is,” says Cathy.
Eva was born with severe combined immune deficiency syndrome (SCID), a condition which means she had no white T blood cells which provide natural resistance against infection. Without these, infections spread and can be fatal.
At first, mum Cathy and dad Ryan had no reason to suspect anything was wrong with Eva but when their baby girl couldn’t shake coughs and infections, they knew something was wrong.
“It just wasn’t shifting,” recalls Cathy, explaining the weekly trips to the doctor.
On December 5, 2007, Eva became very ill, struggling for breath. The tot had severe pneumonia.
She was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast for a week where she was kept alive by a ventilator supplying her with life-saving oxygen.
“It was horrific, just complete panic,” says Cathy. “It was so hard to see and look at her in intensive care. She was just lying there.”
Miraculously, Eva was able to come off the ventilator within days. She was taken to Newcastle General Hospital for a bone marrow transplant after a match for her was found by the Anthony Nolan Trust in the USA.
“It was the only chance she had. The bone marrow transplant was the only thing she had to keep her alive,” says Cathy.
Prior to the transplant, Eva underwent eight days of gruelling chemotherapy.
“It was when her hair fell out and I picked it up from the pillow; that was just horrific,” says Cathy.
Just one day after her first birthday, Eva had a rest day. The next day she had the transplant and Cathy and Ryan were told they could not touch their child.
“They said if you kiss that child it could kill her,” recalls Cathy. “It was awful but it needed to be done but knowing I couldn’t even kiss my own daughter was hard.”
When Eva was in hospital, she lived in a tightly-controlled, 8ft x 8ft “bubble” to avoid threats to her non-existent immune system.
Almost 10 stressful months later, Eva and her parents were finally ready to go home.
“Eva was so near death and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone,” says Cathy, reflecting on the ordeal. “The doctors here and in Newcastle are miracle workers. What they did for Eva was unbelievable. It’s just unreal, just the most unbelievable experience. We handed our daughter over to the doctors and said: ‘Please cure her’.”
The trip home was an emotional one for Cathy and Ryan but the close-knit community lined the country road where they lived, wishing them well.
“Everyone was cheering and waving,” says Cathy. “Magilligan is a brilliant community. We had a brilliant reception.”
Cathy and Ryan travel to Newcastle on Monday for a check-up on Eva’s progress. They are hoping for an easing of restrictions on things she hasn’t been able to do before, like go to the beach or the zoo.
“The way Eva looks now compared to before is unreal,” says Ryan. “People can’t believe how she’s come on, running about like any other wee child. Looking back on it now with some perspective, you think, ‘We were lucky’.”
Cathy adds: “She’s a miracle, she really is.”
The family want to raise as much awareness as possible for the Anthony Nolan Trust and the Bubble Foundation and with the help of their close knit community have already raised almost £6,000 for research.
“Thank God Eva is here, and every day she’s going from strength to strength. It is a miracle,” adds Cathy.