None of the many functions in Country Comes to Town were more important or poignant than a fund-raising coffee day at the Masonic Hall in Thomas Street on Saturday.
It was in memory of brave little Jake Flaherty, who died unexpectedly in May – just two days after his second birthday. His short, positive life was an inspiration to all who knew him.
Jake had Down’s Syndrome, but with so many other complications. He had a congenital heart disorder, malfunction of the bowel and breathing problems, brought on by narrowing of the tubes.
He spent most of his young life in hospital – mainly the Clark Clinic in Belfast’s Royal Victoria Hospital – and that’s where he passed away, leaving parents Julie and Wayne and the adoring extended family to mourn a child whose infectious smile simply got under your skin.
They have been an almost unbearable four months for the Flahertys, who live at Kernan Avenue. “It’s the good days-bad days scenario,” said Julie, as they try to pick up the pieces after lavishing so much time and love on their highly dependent little treasure.
They pay tribute to the Clark Clinic who kept him alive, and to the associated Children’s Heartbeat Trust, which will receive the funds from tomorrow’s coffee event. Said Julie, “The trust has been tremendous in its support and does so much for children like Jake. They sustain the parents’ room at the clinic and have been there for us – especially Julie Greenaway from Loughgall who is in the process of setting up a Portadown-Armagh Support Group.”
Right now, the trust is fighting for the life of the Clark Clinic, and Julie Flaherty insists that, without it, Jake would have passed way much sooner, given the number of emergency life-saving operations he underwent.
The “danger” is that all the services will be conducted from Dublin, with an all-Ireland service more sustainable. And while the trust agrees that the main elective surgery should be held down south, they insist an emergency unit must be retained at the Royal. The two governments are trying to work out a compromise.
“However, right now, all our thoughts are geared towards making tomorrow a memorial day for Jake,” said Julie. “It’ll be a difficult day for us, and the tears, no doubt, will flow. But we owe it to his memory and to raising awareness of the superb Clark Unit. As well as the coffee and snacks, there will be an all-day raffle, with generous prizes from local businesses, a balloon release and a red bucket for donations instead of an entry fee. Every penny will go to the trust.”