In Dunmanway, County Cork, in the Republic of Oirland, three-year-old Tristan Forde has been excluded from his nursery school because he takes cannabis oil to treat his rare and severe epilepsy. He was the first in the country to be allowed to use cannabis for medical purposes. He was diagnosed with Dravet Syndrome in late 2014, which caused him to have as many as 20 seizures a day, sometimes lasting an hour.
Tristan’s mother, Yvonne Cahalane, enrolled him at Naíonra Bheanntraí nursery school in January 2017. This week, however, she received a letter by registered post informing her that there was no longer a place available.
The reason why
Before the letter, teachers had revealed that they were “afraid” to deal with Tristan in the event of a seizure. One teacher told Yvonne that she would not administer cannabis oil “as it was a controlled drug.” Yvonne alleges that the nursery school asked her to sit outside the classroom in case something happened to Tristan, although seizures were at their worst at night.
And why it’s unfair
Interviewed by a local radio programme, Yvonne commented that Tristan was “thrilled to go back to school” and the family had been left “really disappointed.” Had Tristan been sick, she wouldn’t have brought him to the nursery school. An advanced paramedic employed by Epilepsy Ireland provided training to the nursery school. An indemnity form was signed. Yvonne requested a list of possible issues, at the head of which was the cannabis oil.
Yvonne’s husband, John, remained in the Irish Republic while she, Tristan and Tristan’s four-year-old brother, Oscar, resided in the US state of Colorado for more than a year, where cannabis for both medical and recreational purposes is legal; they were “medical marijuana refugees.” They returned to the country when their visas approached expiry and Yvonne was promised by the Health Minister, Simon Harris, that Tristan could continue to be given cannabis oil, which lessens the frequency and intensity of seizures; there exists no formal application process. A day after being phoned with the news, Yvonne declared that her son was “the first wee man in Irish history” to be granted access to medicinal marijuana.
Now, Yvonne is seeking a place at another nursery school, but she fears others will act similarly. Naíonra Bheanntraí released a statement stating that its policy was “not to comment on such sensitive matters in a public forum.”
Yvonne reports that cannabis oil has transformed Tristan’s life, leaving him virtually free of seizures, and he has not required hospitalisation since he began to take it. Previously, Tristan’s parents made him wear a helmet because his seizures were so forceful.
Upon his return, Tristan turned on Dunmanway’s Christmas lights. Deirdre Kelly of Dunmanway Chamber of Commerce announced, “We wanted to welcome them home and pay tribute to them and decided that this was the best way to do it.” Yvonne replied that it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the local community.