The one phone call that changed their lives forever

Liam Gilchrist with his "best friend" Buster
-Credit: (Image: Jump Childrens Charity)

A mum has said she couldn't have got through the trauma of losing her son without the support from hospice Claire House.

Liam Gilchrist, from West Derby, sadly died from a brain tumour on December 10, 2021, aged just 22. His shock diagnosis was discovered after suffering from a "really bad headache" and vomiting for days - at the time it was thought he just had covid.

His mum Maria Gilchrist has recalled the heart-break of losing Liam, who was "kind" and "always made an impression." She said she would never have got through those difficult years if it wasn't for Claire House, who has been there every step of the way.

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It was the day of Liam's brother's 18th birthday party, at the end of lockdown in 2019, that changed Liam's and his family's life for good - with just one phone call. Liam woke up with a headache, says his mum. Maria, 61, said: "He rang me and said he had a headache and had been vomiting, we thought he picked something up or had covid.

"I was at the caravan at the time. He rang me again later that day and said he was feeling better, he had stopped vomiting, and his headache was there but not that bad. The next day he rang again and said his headache was really bad, it woke him up early in the morning and he was vomiting again.

"When I got home he seemed OK. The next day it was the same thing. He couldn't get an appointment at the doctor because it was covid and they said he needed a covid test - he spoke over the phone to a doctor - they thought it was some kind of virus. The next day the headache was severe, he wasn't well at all so I took him to A&E. They did tests and sent him away."

At this point things got "progressively worse" for Liam, says his mum. She recalled how he looked unwell, had severe headaches and was vomiting a lot. The worried mum rushed her son back to A&E, where the doctors decided to do a brain scan. They hadn't known it at the time, but Liam's symptoms were actually a brain tumour.

Maria said: "He was told he had a brain tumour that was inoperable and was given six to eight months to live. He was put on palliative care straight away, he had radiotherapy and was put in touch with Claire House.

Liam Gilchrist sadly died of a brain tumour aged just 22
Liam Gilchrist sadly died of a brain tumour aged just 22 -Credit:Jump Childrens Charity

"At first Liam was reluctant to go to Claire House, we don't live far from them and normally it's all young children who go so he didn't think he would get anything from there, and to be honest I was sceptical. We decided we were going to go and it was the best thing that we have ever done.

"They took over all his care, appointments, medication, and he had a district nurse that would come to the house. Claire House just helped with everything.

"It was hard for me because he was an adult, he was 21, and normally you help kids make decisions when they are in hospital or in situations like this, but he had to make his own decisions. He didn't want to talk much about his illness; he just wanted to get on with things and keep things moving as best he could.

"He was still seeing friends as normal, going fishing and doing things he liked. He had to give up his driving licence and work because of the diagnosis, which hit him really hard.

"But, all the things he couldn't talk to us about because he didn't want to upset us he could talk to them [Claire House] about. He looked forward to speaking to them. It gave him the strength to deal with things his way without upsetting people."

Claire House put Liam, who was a huge Liverpool FC fan, in touch with Woodlands Hospice when he became very poorly, which took the strain off his mum and dad, Colin. Maria added: "It meant I didn't have to worry about organising things. When you are going through something like that you want to be spending time with the person you are losing.

"I always said it was like a club that you are thrown into, that no one wants to be a part of."

Speaking to the ECHO Maria recalled how Claire House had "done so much" to help Liam and the family. She said: "They hosted a birthday party at Claire House for Liam, they invited all the family, his nieces and nephews and we got a lovely photo album from the day for memories.

"Liam has seven brothers and three sisters, we are a big, close family that did a lot together. As a family we had an annual Christmas day out every year, but the year Liam died he was too sick to go and Claire House helped his sisters to set up a winter wonderland at home when he was too sick to go out. Father Christmas came, there was fake snow, lights, all at home.

"Liam died five days after that, it was a memory that we wouldn't have without them. With Claire House they take all the stories away and focus on what you want and need to be doing, which is spending time and making memories and doing things.

"Even now Claire House hasn't stopped supporting us. I still go to Claire House, they message us on his anniversary. It's everything after that they do too."

Maria has paid tribute to her "amazing" son, she said: "Liam spent a lot of time with his friends, they would go to football matches, he played golf, went fishing, it was a big thing for him - although he wasn't lucky with it [fishing]. He always made an impression when he was there. He was just so friendly, he enjoyed being with his family and friends.

"Liam was very determined he had started college and half way through his level three he got his diagnosis. He was very determined - he still managed to finish his course no matter what he was going through. He was amazing, being sick wasn't going to stop him. He was so determined."

She added: "We have always been a busy family and never had time for pets, but when he was diagnosed he asked for a dog because he was always going to be at home. We got him Buster, an English Bulldog, he became his companion and best friend. He became the thing he [Liam] was getting up for, he went with him everywhere, even to appointments.

"He came to the party we had for Liam's birthday at Claire House. They [Claire House] made everything easier for us. I don't know how we could have coped without Claire House - nothing was ever too much trouble."

Claire House has two sites, a full hospice on the Wirral and a second site in West Derby, Liverpool, offering day-care, complementary therapies, clinics, play and music sessions, and counselling. You can find out more about the hospice here.

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