It’s often been said that your school days are the best days of your life and Christian McCullagh is settling in well at St Eunan’s in Raphoe.
Christian, from Beltony, Raphoe, is almost seven and started Junior Infants as he continues his recovery from a series of medical complications.
Born five weeks prematurely, Christian fought a brave childhood when his basic survival was perilous on two occasions.
Christian was born in Letterkenny General Hospital with a blocked bladder and spent his first few days at the National Maternity Hospital (Holles Street), where he was stabilised, and then went onto Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin
Christian, by the age of four, had spent three years on dialysis and required a kidney transplant.
“We were told that one of us, me or my husband Gary, might be a match,” says Christian’s mother, Aileen.
Gary was a keen boxer who had won the Ulster senior welterweight championships in 1999. His list on honours also include six Donegal titles, two nine-county titles, the 1998 Ulster intermediate crown, as well as reaching the national semi-finals.
In March 2012, Gary was at the level of semi-professional. But that same month, with the same blood type as his son, he was the obvious donor.
It would mean he would no longer be able to box but he knew it was the right thing to do.
“Gary loved boxing but once he had the chance to donate a kidney to Christian then that was it,” Aileen continues.
“You can get a perfect match and then there are ones that just aren’t 100 per cent. Once he could, Gary began the work-up, which is a process of about six months before the operation where there were urine test, MRI scans you name it.”
Christian, at five, was operated on in Temple Street Hospital in October 2012 after his father went under the knife at the Beaumont.
A kidney operation was something the McCullagh family knew Christian would require. However, the transplant put too much strain onto a leaking valve on Christian’s heart.
Open heart surgery, in February 2013, was not something Aileen and Gary had ever anticipated for their son.
The nine hours were as stressful as anything that had gone before it but, again, Christian pulled through. He then had to undergo a bladder reconstruction in July.
“The last two years have been difficult with a lot of tests after the kidney operation had a serious affect on Christian’s heart,” Aileen continues.
“He still needs his rest but he’s getting over it and started school September, where he is taught by Mrs Karen Logue and has Miss Jennifer Gallagher as his Special Needs Assistant.”
Gary is a coach with Raphoe Boxing Club and their eldest daughter Rocha, who is nine, trains with him. There’s a new addition to the family in nine-month old Riley.
“Christian isn’t allowed to box of course but he goes with his gloves on to watch his father training and loves it there,” Aileen adds.
“There’s no way of telling how long his daddy’s kidney will last - hopefully 10 or 15 years or even longer - but for now, all the surgeries are over.”
Christian, who loves to watch on at those boxing, has proven he’s certainly got the fighting spirit himself.