Bernard McGoon was evacuated to the Mercy Hospital in Auckland, New Zealand last month after his family launched a public appeal to help pay for his medical operation. He died yesterday in Auckland after being discharged from hospital on Friday.
He had always been a lively boy so if there was one thing his parents Charlie and Melyn never dreamt of was the loss of their eldest child and the only boy at that.
Bernard was born in August of 1997 and just one month after his 10th birthday he was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Melyn's younger sister Nancy King said the initial reaction to his condition was shock, considering that he was the oldest grandchild.
"There was hurt and a lot of pain when we first heard about Bernard," she said. "More shock as Bernard was healthy one minute and diagnosed with a tumour the next." Nancy said her nephew was a lively boy. "Bernard was brought up by his papa (Lui) and nanna (Maggie) at the FSC compound in Lautoka.
"His papa always planned great things for him. One of them was for Bernard to study hard so he could buy a home for his mum and Bernard agreed to it. "He was a very considerate big brother; he took the role seriously, always watching out for his sisters Tehana and Cornelia.
"I remember once he did not come home on time and when he reached home, he was asked why he was late seeing as school had finished at 3pm. "He quietly explained that he waited with his friend because his friend's granddad was late in picking him up from school. "That's how considerate he was even for his age.
"Before he left for New Zealand, I spoke with him and he said thankyou Aunty Nancy for everything you are doing for me. "I couldn't believe that even in all his pain, he was thinking of thanking me or anyone for that matter. "He even asked all the nurses at the Lautoka Hospital Children's Ward what they wanted because he and his nanna would go shopping in New Zealand after his operation.
"He remained in high spirits to the end." In October, the family launched a public appeal to raise $70,000 for his medical operation in New Zealand. "We did a lot of crying those first weeks, waiting for the funds to come into Bernard's appeal account so we could send him overseas," Nancy said.
After his family was told of his condition, Lui King said the family of Natabua, in Lautoka were relying on divine intervention and public help to send Bernard overseas. That was on October 20. He was admitted at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital. In October, Bernard suffered a seizure, on World Teachers Day to be precise.
"I noticed he did not look well," his grandpa said. "I told him if he was not feeling well, he must not go to school but stay home but my grandson insisted he go since they would have programs in school." It was to be Bernard's last day at school. "When he returned in the afternoon, he became really sick," Lui said.
"He was sick throughout the weekend so we took him to Lautoka Hospital on Monday." Mr King said when Bernard had a seizure they were told he had to be transferred to the CWM Hospital in Suva for a scan.
Doctors at CWMH diagnosed him with a brain tumour. Bernard's condition had deteriorated further when he lost hand-eye co-ordination, experienced blurred double vision and was unable to open his eyes because of the pain. While doctors drained the liquid in Bernard's brain, Lui said a further operation to remove the tumour could only be done overseas.
He said a team of Australian surgeons in Fiji had been aware of his condition and advised his family that cranial surgery was impossible in Fiji. Nancy said Bernard and his granddad spent most of their spare time at Kulukulu, Sigatoka. "He was the first grandchild and baby in our home, we (aunties and uncles) used to dress him up funny and take pictures of him.
"He loved it because almost all the photos we have of him dressed up and with him smiling for the cameras. "He was also a clever boy, only dropped in exams when he was lazy to study but once he put his mind to it he could be very good at his school work. "He was part of his class quiz team, not accepting defeat when he was hospitalised, always telling his friends they should watch out when he came back to school because he would take his quiz team back to the top again."
The public appeal proved to be a great success. On October 30, his mum Melyn said Bernard was expected to be evacuated to New Zealand for treatment after more than half the $80,000 needed for surgery, travel and accommodation was raised in two weeks. She said she was deeply moved by how fast people responded to their appeal for help with about $40,000 collected.
Melyn said people she did not know from abroad had deposited money into the account they had opened specifically for her son's operation.
On November 2, the Ministry of Health advised that Bernard would fly out to New Zealand for surgery. He was accompanied by his grandmother and Dr Ben Reeves of the Fiji School of Medicine. Melyn said the visa application was approved immediately by the New Zealand High Commission.
"His chances are slim. Each day, he asks my mother Nanna, am I going to die?" Melyn said.
"He fell ill all too suddenly but this experience has been a real eye-opener and major challenge for us. "With him being the eldest grandchild and only grandson, you can imagine how it will affect my parents. This is a wake-up call. "He may not be the same after the surgery but it's a chance we're willing to take. If the New Zealand doctors find it is worse than what we have been told locally, then chemo has been suggested although it may drastically affect his IQ."
On November 24, realising that their son was just too far away from them, Melyn and Charlie flew to New Zealand. "They felt they needed to be with him and Ahura Resorts/Monarc, Melyn and Charlie's employers, were very supportive in giving them the necessary time to be with their son." By Monday, doctors had given Bernard three to five days to live.
His family was told there was nothing else doctors in New Zealand could do. Bernard could no longer communicate with his family. He was discharged from the Mercy Hospital in Auckland on Friday. Melyn said they were trying to come to terms with the fact that nothing else could be done to help Bernard. At 4.30am yesterday, Bernard passed on.
His father Charlie carried him and placed him in his mum's arms and there, he breathed his last breath. Melyn said her son was a fighter. "The doctors said he could lose his life after the blood clot was discovered in his brain but he came through it," she said. "They said Bernard may never open his eyes after the operation but he kept struggling to do so and he finally opened his eyes on December 3.
"He recognised family members around him in New Zealand. "He opened his eyes for two hours straight just to see all the visitors who came to visit. "The doctors gave him three to five days and last Friday they removed all the "drains" in order to let him go peacefully'. "When I spoke to my aunt, I asked that she tell him to hold on through the weekend in order for us to organise the necessary paperwork from this end.
"He did and I am thankful for that." Melyn said there has been so much pain since Bernard's diagnosis but her family learnt a lot. "Bernard's case touched so many people and brought out the best in humanity. "We raised a good amount of money in record time and we were amazed that some complete strangers in Fiji and abroad came forward to give toward Bernard's medical expenses.
"We learnt that God gives and God takes away and we remain thankful that Bernard was given to us for 10 years. "We know Bernard's illness has brought our families closer together." Melyn said families in the same situation should not lose hope and always try to do the best they can for the sick person.
"Even though they may lose their battle with the illness, you can find comfort in the fact that you did everything in your power to help that person," Melyn said.
Adapted from Fijitimes.com