The Irish community in New York is rallying around a little five-year-old girl who has suffered terribly during her short life, and a huge crowd is expected at a Sunday fundraiser at Gaelic Park in the Bronx to help her Irish family cope with medical costs topping $2 million.
Leah Carmody has a brain tumor with a cyst attached. She has suffered a stroke, has a shunt in her skull to help alleviate pressure, and endures weekly chemotherapy sessions that will hopefully shrink the tumor size. She was also diagnosed with diabetes that she’ll have to cope with for the rest of her life.
The pint-sized wonder girl lives in Yonkers with her brother Jimmy, 8, and her Irish parents Aileen, a native of Strabane, Co. Tyrone, and Mike, originally from Tarbert, Co. Kerry.
The Carmodys had every reason to believe they were living the American dream. They came to New York, married and settled into the Yonkers-Woodlawn Irish community. Mike works for Navillus Construction; Aileen, 39, came to New York 16 years ago and is a full-time mom who planned on returning to nursing school. Jimmy is an elementary student who loves to play Gaelic football with the Rangers.
All was well with the Carmodys until Leah took a fall in January of this year while at school. Severe bruising and scraping prompted her parents to bring her to Montefiore Hospital for testing to ensure the damage was just cosmetic, but nothing could have prepared the Carmodys for the horrific news the tests delivered: Leah’s fall was a result of a tumor and cyst on her brain.
“As you can imagine, Aileen and Mike were in a state of shock,” Mary O’Sullivan, a family friend and one of the organizers of Sunday’s benefit, told the Irish Voice.
As if the initial diagnosis wasn’t bad enough, Leah had a stroke during one of her brain biopsies which resulted in speech loss and partial paralysis, says O’Sullivan. Leah’s speech eventually returned, but she still struggles with memory loss and her cognitive functioning is poor, with simple tasks like brushing her teeth proving hugely difficult.
Leah attends school and regular therapy sessions at the Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Valhalla. O’Sullivan says that despite the huge obstacles, Leah remains a happy, chatty child who likes school and remains involved in activities as much as she can.
“Her parents want to keep her life as normal as possible,” said O’Sullivan.
Leah and her family were recently due to take a Make-a-Wish trip to Disney World, but her blood counts were abnormal so they had to postpone.
This week will be a crucial one, as Leah was due to undergo a crucial MRI exam on Tuesday which will show if the chemotherapy has reduced the size of the brain tumor. Her medical team is optimistic that Leah’s tumor can be eradicated, and surgery is an option if the tumor remains stubborn to treatment.
The emotional toll of Leah’s shock illness has been immense on the Carmody family; the financial burden has also been huge. Leah’s parents have insurance, but with bills over $2 million and climbing, the uncovered expenses are well into six figures.
“It is staggering. And they have good insurance,” says O’Sullivan.
“Their friends and family don’t want Aileen and Mike to have to worry about that on top of everything else. So we’ve come together both in New York and Ireland to do whatever we can.”
There have been a number of fundraisers in both Kerry and Tyrone, organized by Aileen and Mike’s family and friends. The Gaelic Park event on Sunday, October 18 kicks off at 2 p.m. until late, and will feature a number of live bands and raffles for prizes including the gloves that Irish soccer goalkeeper Shay Given wore during Ireland’s 1-0 win over Germany last Thursday. Signed team jerseys from the Kilkenny All-Ireland hurling champions and many U.K. Premiership teams are also on offer.
Most importantly, those who attend the Gaelic Park event will help ensure that the Carmodys will not walk alone during their time of need.
“They are so incredibly grateful for the huge amount of support they receive every day,” says O’Sullivan.
For further information, visit www.leahcarmodybenefitfund.com or the Leah Carmody Benefit Fund on Facebook.