THIS is the moment Niamh Coyne’s parents feared they may never see - their gorgeous daughter playing happily with other children, writes Ben Spencer.
After two liver transplants in two years doctors have finally given the cheeky four-year-old the all-clear to mix with other children, after being isolated from other youngsters because of the risk of infection.
The life-changing decision means the Woodseats youngster has been able to play with her cousins Ben and Malachi for the first time and is looking forward to starting school in September.
Just two years ago The Star published an appeal for a life-saving liver donation for the struggling little tot, with a bleak chance of survival.
Now, after several major operations and countless trips to hospital, Niamh is looking forward to a bright future.
Thisa time last year adorable little Niamh couldn’t even walk up a flight of stairs and was having intensive physiotherapy to keep her balance.
But now she is well enough to run and play with her cousins for the first time in her life.
Niamh underwent the liver transplants after she got a terrible infection soon after she was born.
She needed life-saving surgery at just days old and spent virtually every day in hospital for the next two years.
Now after countless infections, regular trips to hospital and several major operations, she is finally on the mend.
For the first time her doctors have given her the all-clear to mix with other children, which means mum Hannah Wilkins, 25, and dad Rob Coyne, 31, can finally let her do something as simple as playing in the park.
Hannah, from Woodseats, said: “The risk of getting an infection has always been too great to allow her to play with other kids. This is a big new start for her.”
Her cousins Ben and Malachi Bielby, aged seven and four, came down from Harrogate for the day to see Niamh.
They raced around Millhouses Park playground, disappearing into the crowds of kids and terrifying Hannah and her sister Julie, 31, mum to Ben and Malachi.
Watching Niamh career around, bossing around her older cousins, it’s hard to believe she had a nine-hour liver transplant six months ago.
Hannah said: “She has come on so far. she has learned how to run. She just couldn’t do it before. Because her liver was so swollen it affected her balance, which meant she had physio to learn to stay upright.”
Despite Niamh’s beaming smile, Hannah knows being so isolated has taken its toll.
Hannah said: “She would see her cousins occasionally but if either of them had a sniffle we would have to cancel. The only other child she has known is someone she has been in hospital with.
“Of course we play with her but not having friends has meant she doesn’t know how to be a child really, she doesn’t know what children do.”
Hannah is hoping Niamh is set for a new lease of life.
Vitally, it means that in September she will be able to go to school and Hannah is thrilled to have got a place at St Thomas of Canterbury Primary, in Meadowhead.
She said: “They are so good there. They are completely set up for children who need feeding tubes. And it is where Niamh’s dad Rob went to school.”
Despite the good news, Hannah knows Niamh will never have a totally normal life.
“Even now, every day, she has to take four antibiotics, three drugs for her liver, vitamins, something to slow her gut down, and a vitamin B12 injection every three months.
“And she still has to have a feeding tube in 16 hours a day.That’s her life. But she has come on leaps and bounds.”
* Niamh is nominated for a Star Superkids award. If you know a child who deserves recognition email firstname.lastname@example.org before Monday’s deadline.
LIVER TRANSPLANT FACTS
* Every year, an estimated 600 liver transplants are carried out in the UK.
* The number of people who need a liver transplant is much higher than the number of livers donated. In 2007, there were more than 13,000 deaths from liver disease in England and Wales.
* The liver is one of the most complex organs. It has over 500 functions, most essential for sustaining life. It filters toxins from the blood, produces proteins, vitamins and hormones and helps fight infection and disease.
* Unlike the kidney, heart or lungs, there is no mechanical device that can replicate the function of the liver, meaning a transplant is the only way to cure liver failure.
* After a liver transplant patients are left extremely vulnerable to infection, which is why Niamh has never been able to mix with other children before. Now, six months after her last transplant, and healthy for the first time, she has been given the all-clear.