Aunt to take leap of faith for niece

A Cavan pageant queen is prepared to scale new heights, including skydiving from more than 10,000ft, in the hope of raising funds for her infant niece who urgently requires life-changing surgery abroad.

Janet Needham, who has represented Cavan and Ireland on the pageant circuit both at home and abroad, is determined to help baby Tina Joan ‘T.J’ Needham and her parents.

Baby T.J. was born on October 7, 2020, surviving against all odds despite her parents being told she would only live a few hours after birth and having been diagnosed in utero with spina bifida meningocele.

A fundraiser was launched in September to cover specialist physiotherapy for the Dublin tot, with parents Claire McDaid and her partner Jay Needham hoping to bring their daughter to the Pet Institute in Budapest for intensive treatment.

To date more than €18,000 has been raised following a family appeal for support. However, the latest update is that T.J. was admitted to Temple Street Hospital on November 9 where she underwent emergency brain surgery. The result is that the bill of care has increased to €80,000.

Janet is hoping to help T.J’s parents reach that goal. “I’d do absolutely anything I can to help them, including jump out of an aeroplane,” says Janet from Ballyjamesduff, who is a self-confessed acrophobe - or person who has an intense fear of situations that involve heights.

Janet says baby T.J. is a “beautiful little girl, just full of life and happiness”, and totally unaware of all the drama going on around her. “She’s just absolutely gorgeous.”

Remarkably, Janet explains, T.J.’s parents were told on the day of the 30-week scan that their baby would have no quality of life because her brain was badly swollen.

Doctors could not see a spine, and Janet says the couple were told “she will live only a few hours to live” and the best option might be to travel to England to get an abortion. “They chose to go ahead and give life, and I’m so proud of them,” Janet says of the couple, adding: “They’ve been fighting to give their little miracle baby girl the best opportunity at life ever since, by raising awareness about spina bifida and looking to get her the treatment that she needs.

“Doctors said she wouldn’t even be able to even move her legs, but now she can. She’s a little warrior. However to improve, and hopefully to one day be able to walk, T. J. requires the best quality physiotherapy and unfortunately, here in Ireland, these types of treatments are maybe 10-20 years behind.”

Along with the skydive, which is scheduled to take place in February 2022, Janet is looking to host a number of other local fundraisers, and has already received support from her son Michael’s football club, Crosserlough’s Bumble Bees.

“We’ve schools doing baking competitions, there are a lot of people on GoFundMe. I’m going to do the sky jump. Whatever it takes,” says Janet.