WHEN little Samuel Roquette was first diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia at the tender age of four his loving parents and elder brother and sister were stunned.
ut both Samuel and his family bravely bore his illness as best they could, and after years of chemotherapy he sprung to life and immersed himself in a range of activities, including football, athletics and music.
Along with his best pal Sebastian, he even set up his own animation company, Siamsa Animations, which was his big passion in life.
Throughout his treatment Samuel’s blood had to be sent once a week to Crumlin’s children’s hospital, so the doctors could check that his treatment was working. This was a 40-minute trek to and from the family home in Stillorgan in south county Dublin.
Speaking about her son’s diagnosis, mum Louise recalls: “The initial signs were he had swollen adenoids and tonsils. They then did a biopsy of the adenoids and when they removed them along with his tonsils that’s how they found it. It was a huge shock.
“It took two or three months for diagnosis, because doctors were baffled and he wasn’t checked for cancer. Childhood cancer is often not on anyone’s radar and diagnosis can be difficult. We were living in Galway at the time and we moved to Dublin shortly after.”
Louise adds: “Samuel was diagnosed with leukaemia just before his fifth birthday and he went through three-and-a-half years of chemotherapy, finishing when he was eight.
“He always got on with it and rarely complained and continued having a normal and fulfilled life, even when he didn’t feel up to it. He continued to go to school as much as he could.”
Samuel attended Monkstown Educate Together school where he had many friends. He was a member of a range of sports clubs, including Mount Merrion and later Cabinteely Football Clubs, as well as Blackrock Athletic Club.
He also played with the Rathfarnham Concert Band, where he played the oboe.
“As a young child, he was a little comedian who always had a funny gesture or dance and entertained and won the hearts of everyone around him,” his proud mother recollects. “He never lost that sense of fun or mischief and he always made us laugh.”
Louise then explains a life changing moment which helped her family immensely.
“We had to do a weekly blood test as part of the treatment,” she explains. “I used to take his blood at home and then we had to drop the sample into Crumlin, so that was a weekly two-hour trip.
“Then I saw a group called Blood Bikes East one day doing a fundraiser at Stillorgan shopping centre. I had Samuel with me and we went up and we were fascinated by the bikes. That’s when I saw they transported blood.
“I said ‘by any chance do you do private houses or is it only between hospitals?’ I told them our story of how we went to Crumlin every week.
“They got in touch with me and from then on they came every single week to our house to collect Samuel’s blood and bring it into Crumlin. All this meant we had more precious time to spend with him, for which we are now so grateful.
“Crumlin didn’t really know anything about it, so we started spreading the word and between them and the Blood Bikes many families have been helped.”
Louise can’t praise Blood Bikes East highly enough.
“They are fantastic,” she says. “It wasn’t only that they were collecting the blood, they were turning up on really cool motorbikes! Samuel used to love to go out to see the motorbike and watch it rev up. He got on one or two of them. It made such a big difference to us and they were so helpful to deal with.”
Louise, who is a researcher and originally from Blackrock, Co Dublin, is married to Frenchman Benjamin Roquette.
The couple have two other children, Abigail (16), who is in fifth year, and Antoine (14), who is in third year.
Samuel went on numerous trips to Barretstown camp, not only with his family and siblings but sometimes on his own.
“Samuel absolutely loved Barretstown and he wanted to be a cara (helper), as did Antoine and Abigail,” reflects Louise.
“He was very brave during his treatment in St John’s Ward in Crumlin.
“He would look after us rather than the other way round. He would kind of reach out to us sometimes and tell us we would be fine and didn’t complain. He had so many plans for the future and wanted to work in the area of technology and animation or film. He was very conscious of trying to give back to the organisations that helped us along the way.”
But last December the family’s world fell apart.
“Samuel got a relapse on his brain and it happened very, very fast,”
Louise sighs. “We thought he had a bug as so many of his classmates and his siblings had one at the time.
“We had him checked and everything seemed fine, even his bloods were normal.
“We never suspected a relapse as Samuel was such a healthy and sporty boy and we thought leukaemia was well behind him. But then he went downhill very rapidly and when he got to hospital, it literally happened within hours.
“He was ventilated and passed away within two days. The team in Crumlin were fantastic and did everything they could, but nothing could save him at that stage.”
He was just 11 years of age. Samuel’s funeral was enormous when it was held at Monkstown parish church, with mourners from his school, sports clubs and band.
“The Blood Bikes were at the funeral in procession,” remembers Louise. “Some of them played in the band even at the funeral and jumped on their bikes afterwards.
“Twelve or 13 of them accompanied the hearse as well. It was so lovely to feel them around us as we took Samuel on his final journey. We were lucky to be able to have that big funeral and have the physical presence of so many people.”
The Roquette family have raised money for numerous charities, including Make A Wish, Barretstown and the Irish Cancer Society, but they also got to help Blood Bikes East.
“Not long before he died, Samuel asked if we could organise a fundraiser for Blood Bikes,” she reveals. “We never got that chance and we wanted to honour that after he died.
“For the funeral, we would have just asked for donations to Blood Bikes, that’s all we did.
“They then contacted me to say that €14,000 was raised, that they were able to trace back from that.”
But the association did not end there.
“As a result they were able to buy a new bike and they have now named it after Samuel, which is fantastic,” beams Louise.
“I know people have even contributed since, saying things like ‘we want to keep Samuel on the road’.
“The blood bikes don’t get any Government funding and they are all volunteers doing wonderful work.
“We know that Samuel is still with us and is giving us the strength to go on, even if some days are very difficult.”
Blood Bikes East voluntary group has 90 motorbike riders and 40 others, who consist of car drivers, administration and controllers.
The Covid crisis has increased their workload by an additional 25 per cent on top of what they normally do.