Christmas has come early for staff at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, who have raised the money for a new heart ultrasound machine for extremely premature babies through an online initiative.
A GoFundMe campaign launched by staff in the hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) a week ago passed its target of €76,500 for the vital piece of equipment on Friday morning.
The appeal had raised some €10,000 by Thursday, when it featured on the front page of The Irish Times. Extensive media follow-up helped accelerate the rate of donations.
Shortly after 1pm on Friday it passed the target and by 2pm more than €78,000 had been raised.
The target was reached despite the existence for a short time of a fake website purporting to be raising money for the cause, which was taken down before it could collect any funds.
The appeal was the brainchild of neonatologist Dr Afif El-Khuffash and colleagues from the unit. Potential donors were encouraged to give at least €5 so they could be entered in a draw to win a designer handbag or tickets for international rugby games.
Dr El-Khuffash said the existing ultrasound, known as an echocardiography machine, was reaching the end of its life and would need to be replaced within four to six months.
“Things have just exploded over the past 24 hours and the response has been amazing. More than 3,000 people have donated, and we are so grateful for their help,” Dr El-Khuffash said.
Heart Children Ireland, a charity for young people with congenital heart defects, donated €5,000 but most of the money came from ordinary members of the public giving small amounts.
Dr El-Khuffash said the raflle would be kept open until mid-January and any suplus would be used to buy other essential pieces of equipment.
The NICU provides specialised care for more than 1,200 babies a year, some of whom weigh as little as 400g.
The equipment is used to assess heart structure and help decide which medication best suits the babies being treated. About 750 scans are carried out annually.
Staff behind the fundraising drive said they started the online funding drive because Government funding was not available for a replacement machine. The equipment currently in use was funded by the hospital's charitable arm, the Rotunda Foundation.
The master of the Rotunda, Prof Fergal Malone, last month warned it was "only a matter of time" before more newborn babies were injured or died as a result of an overcrowding "crisis" in the hospital.
Meanwhile, another online funding campaign, begun by social media influencer Rosie Connolly Quinn has raised almost €290,000 for Crumlin and Temple Street children’s hospitals this month.