A brave Irish girl, who captured hearts on both sides of the Atlantic as she battled a rare childhood cancer, has died.
Four-year-old Alisha Savage’s devastated parents, John and Michelle, who relocated from their home in Cork to the US so she could undergo specialist medical treatment, announced her death to more than 9,000 supporters on Facebook over the weekend.
‘Our darling, beautiful, strong princess has left this world at 2pm,’ they wrote on Saturday night. ‘She is free from pain, hospitals, needles and therapy. She is gone to be with her big brother Christopher and earned her purple wings. We will miss her so much but we know she is going to be free in spirit.’
‘Love you Alisha. We are proud to call you our daughter. May your beautiful soul live on.’ Alisha, from Glanmire, was two when she was diagnosed with an Atypical Teratoid Rhabdoid Tumour – a rare and aggressive brain cancer which affects one in every million children. Surgery in Dublin removed a quarter of the tumour from her brain stem, but the risks of trying to surgically remove the rest were too high.
Her parents were given the option of pursuing an aggressive protocol of chemotherapy and radiotherapy in Dublin, which might reduce the size of the tumour and extend Alisha’s life, or of taking her home and making her comfortable. However, following extensive research, they opted to travel to the renowned Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston to increase her chances of survival.
They spent months fundraising, and relocated to Boston in February 2014. The Boston Herald highlighted their plight and donations poured in. The Ray Tye Medical Aid Foundation also agreed to meet the family’s medical costs for a year. Thousands of people here continued to fundraise for the family.
Alisha showed signs of progress in the first few months but her condition deteriorated during the second half of the year. She rallied in September when, thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, she enjoyed a dream-come-true trip to Disney World in Orlando. However, after a devastating stroke, her condition worsened and by the end of the last month, her parents and her younger sister, Emma Louise, prepared for the end, which finally came on Saturday.
Meanwhile, a multi-denominational service of remembrance for families who have experienced the death of a child will take place in Cork on Wednesday. Organised by the Children’s Services at Cork University Hospital (CUH) and Mercy University Hospital, it is the first service of its kind for the hospitals’ children’s units, whose staff have cared for children who have died.
Daniel Nuzum, part of CUH’s chaplaincy team, said the death of a child is devastating for parents and families. ‘This service provides an opportunity for the hospital community to join with parents and families to remember their child, to offer support and to comfort one another at what we hope will be a very gentle and reflective ceremony,’ he said.