Only four-years-old, Gavin Glynn, is recovering in MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas after life-saving surgery. The Irish boy has a rare cancer and earlier this year, his parents were advised by doctors that all medical options to save his life had been exhausted in Ireland.
Gavin was just 17-months old when during a routine nappy change, his parents John and Jayne Glynn discovered a lump on the infant. Sensing something was wrong, they brought their son to their local GP. The doctor brushed their worries aside suggesting it was a just a bruise. The couple weren't convinced and decided to seek out a second opinion.
In October, 2011, the Glynn's were advised at Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin, Ireland's largest pediatric facility, that their son had stage 4 cancer.
Speaking about their initial reaction to the diagnosis, John said "Shock, sadness, we were afraid of what the future would hold for us and Gavin."
He admits, "I just thought this was not happening. It was like they were talking about someone else."
Gavin’s whole pelvic region was riddled with cancer and it had also spread to his lungs.
The Irish toddler was diagnosed with Embroyonal Rhabdomyosarcoma which is a cancerous (malignant) tumor of the muscles that are attached to the bones.
Treatment commenced immediately and over the course of nearly two years, brave Gavin underwent intensive chemotherapy, radiation sessions and was operated on numerous times to have the tumors removed. In 2013, with treatment behind them and Gavin appearing well, John and Jayne began to believe that their nightmare was coming to an end.
However, the tumors came back.
The Glynn’s were advised by their doctors in Ireland that " no other treatment would work."
Desperately, they researched other hospitals across the globe looking for somewhere that could offer their son a future.
They finally came across the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas which is the only place in the world with a specialized treatment available to specifically target Gavin's type of tumor.
"I got in contact with the hospital myself and asked them to review Gavin's medical records and files" John said
This crucial life-saving treatment is called hypothermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC) and involves open surgery to remove all the tumors from the body. Afterwards, heated chemotherapy is then inserted into the abdominal region to kill any microscopic cells that remain.
Fortunately, Gavin was accepted but the Glynn’s had to face yet another battle in the fight to keep their son alive. The estimated cost of his initial treatment in Texas was $400,000.
John said "Once we found out how much the treatment would cost in MD Anderson we knew that we could not raise this money ourselves"
Undeterred, the couple with the help of family and friends launched a national fundraising campaign in Ireland. Within a week, thanks to a #myboy selfie campaign on social media and the generosity of the Irish people, the Glynn’s had raised enough money to travel to Texas this June.
On June 23, after an emotional goodbye to their two other children Conor (8) and Lucy (6), the Glynn’s flew to Houston with Gavin.
On July 8, surgeons removed both tumors from his pelvis and also performed the pioneering treatment on him in a surgery which lasted more than ten hours.
Surgeons had warned Gavin’s parents that both his bladder and Colon would have to be removed and he would have two permanent bags. The couple were astounded when after the surgery, the doctors advised that they were able to get the tumors out without touching the bladder and colon.
According to the Irish couple, the news was nothing short of a "miracle" and believes it was down to "the prayers and positive thoughts being answered for Gavin."
On a high from the success of the operation, the Glynn's were quickly brought back to earth as Gavin's health deteriorated late last week.
John said "So much can happen in a space of a few hours and days."
Scheduled to have an operation on July 21, Gavin has been upgraded to the ICU department so the medical team can keep a constant eye on their young patient.
Unusually for an Irish family, the Glynn’s have no relatives in the states. However, since arriving the family have been overwhelmed by the support they have received from the Irish American community in Texas. No more so, than this week which has been an emotional rollercoaster for the Wicklow family.
"The support of the Irish community here has been unbelievable" John said."The way they have come together to help us, an Irish family that just landed on their doorstep, has been truly remarkable."
He added "We have had many visits from the Houston Police force as well as support from all the Irish people all over Houston especially from the Gaelic Clubs. They have dropped us in food hampers and are on call anytime we need them. They have become our extended family."
Support has also come from the 2013 Rose of Tralee, Haley O'Sullivan, who is a native of Texas. O'Sullivan along with her partner, David Devlin, set up a local fundraising campaign to help the family with treatment and all the other expenses associated with their stay in the U.S.
Despite the set-back in Gavin's recovery, John says "We hope we are over the worst of it now."
As for Gavin, despite his grave illness and the long recovery he must now endure, the 4-year-old continues to wear a smile. According to his father, he has even picked up a few American sayings. Staff and patients alike have grown accustomed to having this brave Irish boy remind them to "have a nice day."
Follow Gavin’s story on FB/ TeamGavinGlynn or visit their website www.teamgavin.ie