Baby airlifted to Sweden due to Irish funding structure not covering RSV treatment in Dublin

Virus was ‘like a sticky glue blocking his alveoli that just wouldn’t allow him to breathe,’ father of Liam Murphy says

A hospital consultant has said a 12-week-old boy was sent to Sweden for specialised intensive care because the Irish funding model will not allow available machinery and staff to be used in Dublin.

Liam Murphy became ill last Halloween from a respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection that had saturated his lungs.

Although initially treated in Temple Street and Crumlin children’s hospitals, he had to be airlifted to Sweden for emergency ecmotherapy (Ecmo) treatment, a form of advanced life support.

Ecmo is available at Crumlin hospital but the current funding structure will only cover it for cardiac issues and not lung conditions.


Dr Suzanne Crowe, a consultant in paediatric intensive care who treated Liam, said a team would have been able to begin the process in Dublin had Swedish medics not been immediately available to come on a chartered plane and take him back to Stockholm. He would have been transferred at a later stage, she explained.

His father Paul Murphy said watching his son being airlifted to a foreign country without being able to go along was “probably the most difficult moment in my days on the planet”. His wife Deirdre had also remained at his bedside in Ireland.

“The one thing you had [in Dublin] was you were close by, you were with him, you were involved in the decisions, and you could see what was going on,” he said.

Mr Murphy had described his son’s condition in an interview on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland on Monday in an effort to raise awareness around RSV which is now at unprecedented levels. A common respiratory virus, it can lead to more severe illness in younger children.

Liam became ill last Halloween and was subsequently rushed to hospital where he was placed on a ventilator.

“We all know [RSV] as a common cold but it seems to have developed into something far more aggressive,” he said, describing how Liam’s eyes and mouth had turned a shade of blue.

“So we ended up in Temple Street; they used what’s called a cpap mask which is basically oxygen that had to be manually held on him which was quite scary and Liam didn’t like it at all but that was keeping his lungs functioning.”

He was transferred to Crumlin hospital where, after four or five days on a ventilator, he was put on an oscillator. None of the treatment worked and his family were told he would have to travel to Sweden.

“We were told that when he got there he had actually needed to be resuscitated with CPR so that was quite scary but leaving Crumlin he was in a stable condition,” his father said.

“Again, the virus was so aggressive, it completely saturated his lungs. Every X-ray that we had done in the week and in the few days in the run up to Sweden would indicate that the virus was just getting heavier and heavier and ultimately it was like a sticky glue blocking his alveoli and it just wouldn’t allow him to breath. So the machinery had to do it for him.”

Liam is currently recovering in Crumlin and is likely to be discharged in the coming days.

Calls have been made in recent years to expand the Ecmo treatment cover to lung conditions – particularly as the cost of treating it in the UK or Sweden runs to about €250,000 to €300,000, covering a typical duration of one to three weeks.

Irish children have died abroad in the past, while parents also face the prospect of having to pay expensive overseas subsistence bills. In Ireland, Ecmo and the expert team required to provide it, is used between five and 20 times a year for cardiac patients.

“We have all the tech, the training, the knowledge and the experience to start it but from a funding perspective we can’t keep [a lung patient],” said Dr Crowe about the need to transfer them abroad.

“On the human aspect, Paul and Deirdre had two other girls (four-year-old Beth and two-year-old Edie) and they had to be left behind. Lots of families don’t have that support.”

Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) did not respond to requests for comment.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times