Malachy by Dominic Frawley

Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve

Malachy is very difficult to read at times, as a reader’s tears blur the text which beautifully relates the birth and subsequent traumas baby Malachy and his family endured.

Impossible not to be moved by the shock of realising that the little newborn is not facing a joyous childhood, carefree and healthy; instead, he has serious heart disease and the prognosis is dire.  The tiny boy is subjected to major surgeries from his earliest days, and survives, small and delicate.

Dominic, his father, is a doctor so he has a background that heightens his awareness of Malachy’s plight. It is enormous credit to him that, a grieving father, he relives the painful road so we can appreciate the experience of his son’s short life in its wondrous complexity.

It also adds a quality to the book that his comprehension of the medical aspect makes it more intimate, more real.

His heart condition severely restricts Malachy’s activity. Sport is impossible. Even walking on sand at the beach is arduous and avoided, if he can. His spirit is undaunted and Dominic is moved when his little boy reminds him that when you walk slowly, you can see small things that would be missed otherwise.

Maggie, his mother, and Dominic frequented Westmead Hospital, often staying near the hospital for days. They realised that places like Ranald McDonald House were focused on children with cancer, and nothing was available for chronic heart patients. That was the spur for them to support HEARTKIDS, a charity in its infancy.  Maggie gave up work as a teacher and became a driving force in fundraising for HEARTKIDS, and it became a vital support for families in need, not just in NSW, but nationwide.

A gesture of normalcy for the family was their campervan adventure when Malachy was five. Despite some difficulties, it was a great success.

Importantly too, his parents made sure he met and befriended other heart kids, and through all this he was a positive little soul who lived life as best he was able.

The Make-a-Wish foundation brightens the lives of many kids with life threatening illnesses. Malachy’s was unusual. His wish was to produce a film which he scripted, starred in and directed. Not only was this accomplished, in Nowra, his home town, but the screening was done with Hollywood panache – red carpet, limousine and much excitement in its lovely old cinema. It is such a joyful interlude in the book.

The family uproots and heads to Ireland to spend a year; from there, they explore the Western European countries. Malachy eagerly embraces new experiences, and a chance to expand his understanding of the world.

While there, music, school and martial arts dominate family life. There are speed bumps, usually because of Malachy’s forthright manner, but their time there is good – except for the weather. The highlight is the Best Christmas Ever, a feast of traditional fare they all loved, and ideal in the cosy indoors of a freezing landscape.

Upon returning to Australia, he gathered a group of imaginary friends, Harry Potter amongst them. Handball became popular, easier for him to play than more energetic games. He created a new ‘friend’ cousin Jarred from New Zealand who even ventured outdoors.

Great excitement greeted Malachy’s gift from HEARTKIDS, a Segway which is a wheelchair capable of moving upstairs. Mobility suddenly improved by leaps and bounds.

It led to his being the star of a promotion for HEARTKIDS which he embraced with zest.

Still only ten years old, he was a guest speaker at the Tiny Tickers Ball at the ballroom of the Sydney Hilton.

How extraordinary was his development as a boy with a life-threatening condition is captured in his own words ‘I am proud to be me’.

The vivid contrast of Vietnam was an unforgettable experience especially for Malachy. There he is conscious of the fact that, although one may have nothing materially, one can still be happy.

As he grew into teen years, his unique personality strongly emerged. He had lots of friends in Nowra, learned to play the drums, was involved with many different activities, but the overriding goal for him was to write and be published.  Simultaneously he was dealing with his medical problems with his characteristic equanimity.

Malachy’s charisma won many friends. He lived his brief life to the full.

When, at fifteen, he had a cardiac arrest at the school bus stop, it came cruelly to an end.

Dominic, a loving father, has penned a heartbreaking account of subsequent days, in ICU and the final acceptance of the fading of the light of their lives, their brave young man.

It is difficult to read without being overcome with emotion and deep sadness, as the death of a child must surely be.  I cannot imagine how steely his resolve had to be in order to convey so profoundly and honestly this excruciating experience.

It is incomprehensible that children are made to suffer, but Malachy was not disadvantaged by his shortcomings. He was loved and admired for his indomitable spirit.

It is clear that his short life brought immeasurable light and joy to a mundane world.

Malachy – A Father’s Story of Love, Laughter and Loss

[2021]

by Dominic Frawley

Wild Dingo Press

ISBN 978 192589 365 6

$32.95; 248pp

 

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