Little Mollie will lead the tractor race
Mum Fiona Clancy Plunkett still vividly remembers hugging her four-month-old daughter to her chest as she walked over to husband Séamus with ‘tears streaming’ down her face.
“I told him ‘Mollie has to go to Temple Street’. He asked ‘why?’, and I said ‘I don’t know!’ no, it has something to do with his eyes.”
A lot has happened in the more than a year and a half since little Mollie Plunkett was diagnosed with optic nerve hypoplasia (ONH). Otherwise known as DeMorsier syndrome, ONH is an underdevelopment or absence of the optic nerve. The condition is estimated to affect one in 10,000 children.
Mollie’s vision is impaired and, although recent tests on her vision have been positive, it is not known if the young Cavan girl will ever fully develop her sight.
Today mum Fiona is brimming with pride as she tells Celt that Mollie isn’t letting this disability hold her back. So much so that, next weekend, Mollie will help carry out a major fundraiser for the tractor and vehicle race in her honor. The event has already raised almost €7,000 for the National Council of the Blind in Ireland (NCBI), with more donations arriving every day.
The Mollie Plunkett Run takes place this Sunday March 27 and starts at St Brigid’s Church near where the Plunketts live in Laragh, passing through Cavan Town, Cootehill and Canningstown before returning to the original parish.
Registration is €20 per vehicle – all tractors, vintage cars and motorbikes and trucks are welcome – and refreshments will be served on the day, with a raffle also planned.
When asked if Mollie is excited about the event, mum Fiona simply laughs. “Where do you want me to start with her?” Mollie is 21 months now and she absolutely rules the roost. She is the boss! She will be right there, front and center, right in front next to her daddy. She’s a real daddy’s girl.
Mollie’s shock diagnosis came at a time when the world was otherwise reeling from the fifth wave of the pandemic in Ireland, brought on by the emergence of the more virulent Omicron variant.
That something was wrong with their daughter was far from the family mind.
It was only with the earlier easing of Covid restrictions, towards the end of August, that Fiona and her husband Séamus were able to celebrate Mollie’s christening with their friends and family. That evening, Fiona’s brother-in-law, Séan, and his wife offered to look after Mollie.
“The next morning they brought her home, and it was Sean who told me there was something ‘funny’ in Mollie’s eye. My sister was there too and she said the exact same thing. You only saw it once in a while, depending on how she looked at you.
During Mollie’s three-month checkup, Fiona sought advice from the public health nurse. Initially, he was told that “everything was fine, nothing wrong there”.
But a ‘nagging feeling’ prompted Fiona to persist on Mollie’s behalf, and an appointment was made with the eye doctor at Virginia Primary Care Center.
“We received the call on December 21, 2020. As soon as we walked in, the eye doctor didn’t even have to examine it. She could see right away that Mollie wasn’t concentrating. She should send us back to Temple Street.
Looking back, Fiona says there were possible telltale signs. “She wasn’t looking at us, or we could put something in front of her and she wouldn’t care. We were in Virginia on a Monday and in Temple Street on Wednesday. Within two hours of the test, the chief consultant was able to tell us that Molly had the sight of a six-week-old child.
As a family with no previous experience with vision loss, the first question was “Well, what kind of sight does a six week old have?”
Mollie had an MRI in January 2021 which confirmed ONH.
“The nerve connecting the eye to the brain has not developed. Has it developed or will it develop, we don’t know,” says Fiona, originally from Manorhamilton, Co Leitrim, who works as a medical assistant at Breffni Care Center in Ballyconnell.
Since the diagnosis, Mollie and her family have received practical and emotional support from NCBI, and the upcoming Tractor Race is their way of giving back, helping other visually impaired children and adults in Ireland.
Fiona is hopeful. “We were told Mollie might not see at all. But there’s something about it because she got good news before Christmas that she responds well to light. It’s a slow development,” she explains, adding that they can’t rule out that she might see properly one day.
Mollie, says Fiona, “goes with the flow”.
“She’s just the best little girl. She doesn’t let her visual impairment hold her back at all. She’s very cute, just a beautiful kid, has a great nature about her. This [diagnosis] definitely brought us closer, on both sides of the family, because we had never had to deal with such a situation. It’s not in any of our families, so it was a major shock to us. Looking back, I think neither I nor Séamus knew what was going on. It took us about six months or more to realize what was going on. Only for NCBI we would be absolutely lost.