A grateful Ringaskiddy family were last summer given the chance to meet and thank the pilots that flew their son to the UK for an emergency liver operation just 3 years ago this month. Liam Middleton, now 8, was diagnosed with liver disease at Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin after weeks of feeling lethargic and itchy and was immediately flown to King’s College in London on the Government’s private jet.

Further tests determined that Liam wouldn’t need a transplant as feared and that by removing part of his liver and using a piece of his own intestine to create a new bile duct for the organ, he would also be able to return to full health.

“We first noticed Liam itching his hands and feet in late 2009 and he then became very tired and irritable after Christmas,”   “If we were taking him anywhere in the car, he couldn’t keep his clothes on because of the itching and, after a series of blood tests, they thought he had a viral infection.liam would get out of bed at night and would keep rubbing the soul of his feet hard down on the carpet,we knew this was not right ,between all the symptons as he complained we went to doctor every time and it took a month or so to diagnose him.

“It got to the stage where he couldn’t keep his clothes on at all and when his pupils started turning yellow, we went straight back to the doctor again. We spent three days in CUH in cork, getting loads of tests done, and they sent us to Crumlin after finding an obstruction in his liver. The team there wanted to do a biopsy and they did tell us that they thought it was cancer of the liver at that stage as the mri scan showed a white mass in around his liver.

My wife Catherine, had given birth to the couple’s third child just a week earlier and while the operation confirmed that Liam did not have cancer, the surgeon found that half of his liver had shut down because of blocked bile ducts and also removed his gallbladder, which had stopped functioning.

“You never think for one minute that your child will ever need to go Crumlin or further afield,” Michael went on. “Between the HSE and Crumlin, they organised the Government jet to take myself and Liam to London. Both of our passports had expired and even though it was during the strike, when we went there with a letter and our forms, we had them back within half an hour. Professor Nigel Heaton, who operated on and treated George Best, did the surgery. He took Liam’s liver out, removed half of it and created new bile ducts into his intestines.”

Michael and Catherine’s two other children, daughters Niamh and Ciara, have since been checked for liver disease and been given the all- clear. Michael says he will never forget the support his family received in their hour of need and has backed the establishment of a new foundation, Childrens Liver Disease Ireland.

“As it stands today, the procedure has been a major success. Liam turned 8 last june and while he will be on medication for the rest of his life, it’s a small price to pay for having health. We had the pleasure of going back out to Baldonnel  last year, and we presented the pilots with some glassware. They said they were more than willing to airlift anybody at any time if they could help.

“The HSE bent over backwards to get our son to London and I’ll never forget that. My own employers were incredible as well and even the passport office, which was heavily criticised last year, stopped and did what it could for a sick child. The system does work – if anyone wants to contact me to get more info. feel free as we would be more than willing to help any that has to go through this journey.