Family shielding for three months sees some hope on horizon

A mother whose family has been shielding for over three months to protect her medically vulnerable son has expressed hopes of seeing him back at school.

Elizabeth McKenna’s seven-year-old son David had a kidney transplant four years ago, with the organ donated by his father Jim, and his suppressed immunity places him in a Covid-19 at-risk category.

Mr and Mrs McKenna took the decision to shield their family in mid-March, before receiving an official doctor’s letter advising it, to reduce the chances of David contracting coronavirus.

David McKenna doing some school work while shielding (McKenna family/PA)

The couple, who also have an 11-month-old daughter Eimear, stayed within their north Belfast home and garden for 12 weeks, allowing no one else in.

They only emerged for the first time earlier this month when relaxations permitted one form of outdoor exercise a day.

Still sticking to the one outside trip a day, Mrs McKenna said she is starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

The public servant said the family has been reassured by advice from their medical team that children do not appear to be overly affected by Covid-19.

“If you had asked me 12 weeks ago I would have said there’s not a mission he’ll be back in school in September, even for two days a week,” she said.

“I’m hoping that if it keeps going the way it’s going, he has a classroom assistant that’s trained to catheterise him and with the right PPE and stuff, that he may be able to go back in.

“Especially if they do what they say they are going to do and reduce class sizes and put them into bubbles. If, I’m hoping we can do that.

“If not, he’s in for a long spell of home schooling and that’s going to drive him berserk.”

David following his transplant in 2016 (McKenna family/PA)

Mrs McKenna said shielding was actually an enjoyable experience at the outset, as the family were all together, but it became more stressful as the weeks went on.

“The beginning was great,” she said.

“It was a bit of fun for him.

“There was no school and mummy and daddy were at home.

“Our lives would be quite manic anyway, it would be quite a busy household, and so the fact that everybody stopped was great.

“And then reality started to kick in where you had home schooling being sent home and there was nothing much to do every day.

“It’s been tough. It has been hard.

“We’ve done drama lessons on Zoom, we’ve done singing lessons on Zoom, we’ve done phone calls with friends, but obviously there’s none of that social contact and that’s where David struggles. He would be quite sociable.”

David and sister Eimear in the grounds of the Stormont estate this week. The family have been able to take one outside trip a day for exercise since restrictions on those shielding eased (McKenna family/PA)

Mrs McKenna stressed that receiving a transplant was not a cure, rather a treatment for David’s chronic renal condition.

She said he will require at least one more transplant in his lifetime.

“The worst case scenario for David is he loses his kidney function and then that means we lose the kidney,” she said.

“The worst case scenario is you lose the kidney, and that means dialysis.

“So there is most definitely a heightened risk with David.

“The main aim is to try and keep him off dialysis.

“And if he gets Covid there is a potential for that.”

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