The children who will spend Christmas Day in hospital

‘The staff have been absolutely amazing and are so thoughtful and caring to her'

In the words of Chris Rea, most people will be "driving home for Christmas" in the next few days. But while traditionally everyone does what they can – be it by trains, planes or automobiles – to be with their loved ones over the festive period, there are many others who won't make it home at all.

Some will be working abroad, others can’t afford the fare and some will be in hospital for the duration of the festivities.

Sophie Buckmaster (11) is one of those patients who, due to illness, will miss out on the customary family dinner as she has been an in-patient at Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin (OLCHC) since becoming seriously ill five months ago.

“Sophie has been in Our Lady’s hospital since the summer,” says her mother Samantha. “She has autism, and on her little brother’s birthday (July 17th) she had an unrelated and unexpected seizure. We found her on the floor of her room, and although we didn’t know what it was initially we took her to hospital and after a CT scan it was confirmed that this is what she had just experienced.


“Then she started having difficulty walking and became doubly incontinent, which we thought was a side effect of the antibiotic she was on. But a few days after that she had another seizure and while still not able to walk properly, she then began having difficulty eating, and although she would put food in her mouth she seemed unable to chew it.

“We also noticed that she started making a strange jerking movement, and this we discovered later was characteristic of a movement disorder.”

Carrying out tests

Since her first seizure Sophie has been unable to return home as doctors are still carrying out tests to find out why she has suddenly lost all her faculties.

“We know that there has been inflammation on her brain, but the doctors still haven’t found a cause for what is wrong with our little girl,” says Samantha. “We really miss the sound of her giggles in the house, and her dog Princess Leia is distraught without her and keeps looking for her everywhere.

“We also miss seeing her on the trampoline as it was her favourite thing to do, and she was always laughing to herself while doing ‘flips’. But the hardest aspect and the thing I miss most is her voice – I really want to hear her say ‘Mummy’ again.”

Yet despite not knowing what is wrong with her daughter, Samantha says she, her husband Stephen and other children Nathan (15), Amy (8) and Jake (4) will ensure they visit Sophie as often as possible over the Christmas break.

"The fact that Sophie has been in hospital for so long is very hard on everyone, particularly the other kids when they see how much she has changed and how little she can now do for herself," says the Kildare woman.

“But visiting her often has helped them to deal with it, and while I am there every day and Stephen as many times as he can during the week, we will all be in regularly during the school holidays – and of course on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We might even try to take her home for a few hours if that is at all possible.

So much festivity

“Having said that, the one bright light throughout all of this is how happy she is in OLCHC. The staff have been absolutely amazing and are so thoughtful and caring to her.

"And there has been so much festivity during the whole month of December with Disney and Star Wars-themed events, decorations and songs and visits from Santa Claus. So, I'm sure that on the day itself they will all have a lovely time.

“It’s very tough having a child in hospital during Christmas, but seeing Sophie so happy and enjoying all the fun stuff she is doing helps us get through it, and we are so grateful to them for how much they genuinely care.”

There are many other children and, indeed, adults in hospital over the festive period, and Rachel Kenna, director of nursing at the Crumlin hospital, says keeping their spirits up as well as looking after their health is vital.


“Although we try to get as many children as we can home for Christmas, around 100 very ill children will spend the day in the hospital. Having a child with a serious illness puts a lot of strain on families, particularly at this time of year, so we try to ensure that each child who spends Christmas Day in hospital has a special experience.”

To help raise funds for research, equipment and essential supports for the hospital this Christmas visit

Arlene Harris

Arlene Harris

Arlene Harris is a contributor to The Irish Times specialising in health, lifestyle, parenting, travel and human interest stories