Niall Heraty is just like every other 11-year-old. He adores the Yankees, he plays a mean game of basketball, and he loves more than anything to wind his older brother, Conor, and his younger brother, Ryan, up.
However, Niall, son of Julie and Vinny Heraty, natives of Westport, Co. Mayo, hasn’t had the time or energy to enjoy such activities since March. Niall has a rare cancerous tumor and is currently undergoing rigorous treatment to rid his young body of the disease.
Niall, a sixth grader, was in the middle of an intense game of basketball with his friends in February when he fell to the ground. A shooting pain in his back caused him to grab his back and drop to his knees on the basketball court in pain.
Niall, who lives in Hopewell Junction, Dutchess County, with his family, was sent immediately for scans. An MRI revealed a mass on his lower back, which was followed by biopsy, which reveled a cancerous tumor.
Niall’s father, Vinny, 44, told the Irish Voice over breakfast last week that doctors informed the family their son has a cancerous tumor that isn’t very common.
“We were just shocked. We really didn’t expect this,” said Heraty, a custodian with the Board of Education in the Bronx.
After diagnosis, Niall’s treatments began immediately.
“As soon as the tests were completed and Niall was diagnosed he began chemo to shrink the tumor,” explains Heraty.
Niall has been undergoing months of chemotherapy and radiation at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
“The treatments are tough on Niall but he is so strong. He never once complains, which has made our life and trying to deal with all of this much easier,” smiles Heraty gently.
“Niall has a strong and positive outlook. You couldn’t ask for a better lad.”
Niall found it difficult to lose his hair during the treatments and was most upset when he couldn’t go to school.
“That was hard on him. He likes school and wanted to be there. At least now his hair has grown back, and last week he had his first hair cut since the treatment so he is delighted,” said Heraty.
While trying to cope with the endless hours of treatments, Niall, said his father, focuses all his attention on sport.
“He is very big into sport. He misses playing an awful lot. But he still follows baseball. He has gone to a lot of games. If you said anything wrong against the Yankees, he wouldn’t be too happy,” laughs Heraty.
“He has even met some of the players. He was delighted.”
Niall was sick at the beginning of his of his treatment. He didn’t have much energy for fun and games, but as the weeks have passed his body is adjusting and the young sports star is feeling a little better.
“After months of chemo and the radiation Niall’s pain has gotten more manageable,” Heraty said.
An MRI in early August revealed a reduction in the size of the tumor. This news pleased the Heratys.
Despite Niall’s rigorous treatments, he still finds the time and energy to make fun of his dad’s Irish accent.
“He loves accents, especially mine, and loves making fun of them,” laughs Heraty.
While Niall battles his schoolwork and his Thursday visit to the city for his weekly chemo session, friends and family of the Heratys have come together to organize a fundraiser to offset the mounting costs of treating Niall at one of the top cancer hospitals in the world. Although Niall’s family has medical insurance, the co-pays the Heratys are required to pay and the cost of traveling to and from the city, accommodation when required and several other hidden costs, are accumulating on a rapid basis.
Heraty wants to thank his neighbors and friends for being “outstanding” in helping the family out at such an important time in their lives.
“Our good friends in Dutchess County and in the Woodlawn area, and even people we didn’t know, have made our lives so much easier. Between babysitting, taking care of our other kids, bringing them to sports and back, it’s made it so much easier for Julie and I to concentrate on Niall,” said Heraty.
Heraty wants to specifically thank Dawn Joyce and Assumpta Tanian, cousins of Julie, who were enormously helpful in guiding the family in the right direction when Niall was first diagnosed.
“The girls have been just amazing, and so has Coleen Murray, Julie’s other cousin, who has looked after our youngest, Ryan, a lot for us,” he said.
Niall’s fundraiser, at which he hopes to make a personal appearance if he feels up to it, takes place at Rory Dolan’s bar and restaurant this Sunday, September 27, from 2 p.m. onwards. Several Irish bands will make an appearance at the fundraiser, including Eileen Fogarty who will headline the evening.
A charity auction will also take place, including the auction of a signed Kerry Jersey. Raffle tickets are $20 and $100.
Donations can also be made to the Niall Heraty Cancer Fund at Country Bank, 4349 Katonah Avenue, Bronx, New York 10470. Call 201-233-0436 or 917-459-3680 for more information.