A family mourning their eight-year-old daughter who passed away suddenly have found some comfort in the fact their little girl will eventually save five lives with her organs.
And she has already saved three.
Caireann Gildea, from Point Cook in Melbourne, died suddenly after she suffered a ruptured AVM (arteriovenous malformation) in her brainstem on March 7 2020.
Just the day before she died she had competed in a Little Athletics tournament and had won the 200m race. Her family described her sudden death as a “shock”.
For the one year memorial of her death, her mother Kathy, 41, and father Neal, 42, have remembered her beautiful presence in this world, including that she will save the lives of five strangers.
“We lost someone but (someone else has) gained a better life,” Kathy told 7NEWs.com.au.
It was an ordinary day for the Gildea family on March 1 2020.
But then Caireann (pronounced like Karen) started “screaming that her head was exploding,” Kathy said.
She was struggling to breathe and Neal said “We saw her go blue”.
Her heart stopped beating and it took ambulance officers 40 minutes to get it started again.
After she was taken to the hospital, doctors told Kathy that her daughter was a fighter and so she dared to hope.
But several hours later, after running some tests, a nurse approached the family with tears in her eyes.
Kathy knew then that it was over.
The hospital broke the devastating news: Caireann was brain dead.
“They got her heart to start but her brain had stopped,” Neal said.
Caireann’s brain activity was non-existent because of a tiny internal bleed.
If it had happened elsewhere in her brain, she might have survived, but the brain stem controlled her heartbeat and breathing.
The tragic incident was “A rarity within a rarity,” Kathy recalled.
Doctors kept Caireann on life support for several days to give extended family members time to say their goodbyes.
Neal’s family come from Ireland while Kathy’s are from New Zealand.
At one point, they had 15 people staying in their house to visit Caireann.
During that period of time, while waiting in the hospital, the Gildeas were approached by someone from DonateLife.
“We just knew the kind of person that Caireann was she’d want to do that,” Kathy said.
Doctors operated on Caireann to take her right and left kidney, and also her liver.
The kidneys were donated to a man and a woman who had both been stuck on dialysis for years.
A teenage boy who was quite unwell received her liver.
Medical staff also removed two of Caireann’s heart valves which are being stored for future transplantation.
That means the eight-year-old could potentially save five lives.
The Gildeas have already received a message from one of the donor recipients.
A young woman “sent us a handwritten letter and a drawing that she did”, Kathy said.
The woman, an unnamed teacher, thanked them for their donation and told them she had been stuck on a dialysis machine for years.
But with Caireann’s left kidney, she has a new lease on life and has begun studying her Masters Degree.
A ruptured AVM is extremely rare.
The parents have come to terms with Caireann’s death knowing there was no way they could have known she had a predisposition to it.
“It’s a ticking time bomb – you’re born with it and most of the time you only find out about it till it happens,” Neal said.
“Less than one to 2 per cent of those who have it have a rupture.”
Caireann had no history of headaches or seizures.
Although the condition isn’t hereditary, the hospital offered to give their children an MRI “for piece of mind”.
Kathy and Neal have two other children – Daniel, aged 12 and Rían, aged four.
They’ve given Daniel a brain scan just in case but doctors found nothing.
Rían is too young to go into an MRI but they plan to get the scan when he’s a bit older.
Caireann’s brothers are struggling with her death, particularly the youngest.
“(Rían) asked for a trampoline so he could jump so high he could reach her in the sky,” Kathy said.
Because of COVID-19, after the initial visit their family from Ireland and New Zealand have been unable to come back to Australia.
But Kathy said their community had been amazing.
“We’ve had everything from people dropping off curry and some stew … to giving us toilet paper,” she said.
The family held an anniversary for Caireann’s passing over the weekend.
They launched a GoFundMe ahead of the one year anniversary, with all proceeds to go to Red Nose, Ambulance Victoria, and Point Cook Fire Brigade.
“The team of paramedics and guys from CFA tried so hard, for so long. They were absolutely unbelievable,” the couple wrote.
“We are forever thankful.”