The brave little girl who could face her 10th brain surgery before the New Year

Battling youngster Lyla O’Donovan may be just days away from yet another brain operation – and it will be her tenth surgery in just three years.

Monday, 30th December 2019, 6:00 am
Updated Monday, 30th December 2019, 6:00 am
Brave Lyla in hospital after one of her operations.
Brave Lyla in hospital after one of her operations.

The family of the courageous seven-year-old are waiting to hear when she will be called into the RVI for an operation to dissect tissue and hopefully ease pressure from fluid build-up on the brain.

No definite date has been set for the surgery but dad Paul, from Hartlepool, believes it could be any day now.

And he told how his daughter keeps on putting on a brave face even though it is becoming more daunting for her as she gets older.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Lyla, centre, is pictured with her fellow winners of the Child of Courage category at this year's Best of Hartlepool Awards.

“She is super brave but it does get her down,” admitted Paul. “We don’t show people the sad side and we try to keep it positive.

“You see Lyla singing and dancing but she does go through a lot of mental stuff as well as the physical.”

Lyla has suffered seizures because of the pressure build-up on the brain.

She was just three when she was diagnosed with a brain tumour and has suffered endless complications, and the family dealt a series of blows along the way.

Lyla has been so brave despite all of her operations.

Since her diagnosis, Lyla has had to deal with meningitis, hydrocephalus and needed a VP shunt implanted to relieve some of the pressure on her brain.

The latest operation is needed as medics believe scar tissue from previous operations has fused with her brain stem, and fluid which would normally drain through the spinal cord is not draining fast enough.

It causes a build-up in one of the ventricles in the brain and that is causing seizures.

Experts plan to create a hole in one of the ventricles which will hopefully mean the fluid will drain and relieve some of the pressure.

Courageous Lyla keeps up her smiles.

Paul, 34, a corporal in the British Army, said: “It is always a risk going into the brain but it could work and Lyla will stop having seizures and it holds.”

The family have had to put a holiday on hold because of the forthcoming surgery and Paul said: “We were advised to wait until this is done and hopefully we can go a few months after that.

“We are waiting for a date but it is likely to be in December and it could be straight after Christmas.”

He said Lyla had spent most of Christmas itself ‘laid on the sofa’ and getting ‘really tired’.

Time to recuperate after an operation.

Now it is a waiting game to get a definite date for surgery.

“This will be the tenth operation on Lyla’s brain since 2016. Her first lasted for 15 hours and Lyla was only given a 50% chance of survival.

Since that, eight operations have followed, said Paul. “It’s a lot and I wouldn’t like to think how many stitches she has had.”

Incredibly, it is Lyla herself who is often the strong one. “We will ask her what’s on her mind and she will say ‘I am alright’.

“She does open up and every now and then she will break down and say ‘I can’t do this any more. It daunts her more now but she is super brave.”

Parents Paul and Kirsty O’Donovan, of Ushaw Moor, Durham, are working with the charity Brain Tumour Research to raise awareness of the biggest cancer killer of children and adults under 40.

On March 21 next year, Paul will be taking part in a charity boxing event at Rainton Meadows with tickets on sale from January 6, and priced at £25 for standard tickets.

He said: “It is a small charity which is close to our hearts and they have always been there for Lyla.”

To find out more about Lyla’s journey, visit

And while Lyla continues to face health battles, there have been some amazing highlights in her life including the night when she won a Child of Courage trophy at the Best of Hartlepool Awards in 2019.

Paul said: “It is a massive thing for her when she is down and she gets a night at the awards.

“If she didn’t have this, I think she would have crashed a long time ago.”