By Niall McCoy
Pairc Esler will be engulfed in a sea of colour this Saturday as 30 teams come together to help raise funds for local girl Lauren Fitzgerald.
‘The Best Big Blitz for Lauren’ is a Year 10 seven-a-side tournament featuring local clubs and schools with throw-in scheduled for 10am.
Special guest on the day will be Irish rugby captain Rory Best while there will be music, refreshments, family fun and spot prizes on the day.
Lauren was diagnosed with stage IV high-risk neuroblastoma in July last year.
Lauren has already endured extensive treatment to get her into remission and, amazingly, her latest scans were clear.
But neuroblastoma is an aggressive and complex cancer to treat. It has a high likelihood of returning, and if this happens the survival rate is very low.
That’s why Lauren’s family are fundraising with ‘Solving Kids’ Cancer’ to give her the best chance of living cancer free.
They are attempting to raise £234,000 by September for Lauren to access a vaccine in New York that’s showing promise in reducing the chances of relapse. Currently over £86,000 has been raised and parents Garrett and Mary-Claire have praised the local community for their support.
“When you started out you thought ‘how will all this come together?” said Garrett.
“But it has and we have 30 teams coming and playing. Everybody is putting their weight behind it. It’s amazing how everyone has rowed in.
“We had to increase the number of teams because we didn’t expect a such a response, it’s teams from clubs and schools competing.”
Lauren, a Harry Potter fanatic, continues to fight hard but Garrett gave some insight into just how difficult it has been for the 13-year-old.
“She is keeping well but the treatment is very harsh on her.
“Within a fortnight of being diagnosed she was in a wheelchair but she’s now walking more and more.
“Lauren’s having immunotherapy now. It’s not as harsh as some of the other treatments and she’ll be doing that until the end of the September.
“As she goes through the process she has various scans and she needs to be clear at each stage to progress to the next stage.
“She’ll have scans coming up at the end of the summer and she needs to be clear to progress for the trials in New York.”
The event was organised by the family in conjunction with Lauren’s school, Sacred Heart, the Down County Board and the Newry Shamrocks club.
Garrett said that the Fitzgerald family was blown away by the support.
“The fundraising is going well, there are lots of different events going on and it’s going well. We have over £80,000 raised.
“The Sacred Heart school, and in particular Treasa Davey, have been brilliant in helping to organise. Down GAA have been helpful and lots of others have been too.
“Rory Best has been fantastic too so it’s going to be a great day.”
Donations can be made from this link: https://solvingkidscancer.org.uk/campaigns/lauren-fitzgerald/