Mums Who Inspire

'Nine children died in my first week': Inspiring mum's heartbreaking story

As part of our Mums Who Inspire series, we sat down with Dr Suzanne O’Connell to learn more about her inspirational story of love, compassion and special needs. If you have a story that you would like to be featured, email mumswhoinspire[at]

As we begin to share the inspirational story of mum-of-two, Dr Suzanne O'Connell, there is one line that sticks out to us the most: "Nine children died in my first week."

It was the harrowing reality which faced a young woman when she landed in Moldova sixteen years ago for a three month stay. 

Speaking to MagicMum, Suzie delves into her life before she moved abroad as part of her medical training; before diving deep into the world of malnutrition in orphanages for nine weeks. 

But what happened in her first week was to change her fate, claiming she had 'never felt so useless in her entire life'. 

Growing up in Killiney, Co. Dublin, Suzie confesses she was quite privileged, going on to study medicine as her chosen career in Trinity College Dublin. 

As a medical student though, she was required to undertake a three month study abroad programme, and after watching a documentary on RTÉ, Suzie made the rash decision to complete her placement in orphanages throughout Moldova, something which horrified her late mum. 

"Mum never got over it, it was a country she knew little about, she was worried. My dad was supportive, he rallied the troops to help out," Suzie tells MagicMum.

"I always thought orphanages were happy places. I was very wrong. It was a massive culture shock. The poverty was extensive.

"When people passed it was more a case of one less mouth to feed."

The orphanages opened up a new world to Suzie as she realised they were far from what she had imagined or seen on TV; going to visit each one, the now mum-of-two continued to come back to the same one each time. 

"The special needs orphanage really affected me, kids were locked in cages, they were thought of as half animals."

"They didn't have proper facilities for their development, they didn't understand what was wrong with the children, huge change was needed in the organisation."

Suzie accepted at the time that what she could do was limited, but she needed to start somewhere, believing: "If not me then who? Anybody would have done it."

Suzie began to instil proper practice and procedure before calling home for help.

She was supported by a number of volunteers, raising money to avail of doctors to diagnose children. Even Trinity College donated beds, chairs and lockers, which sparked the fruition of Suzie's charity, Outreach Moldova in 2000. 

Over 1,700 Irish people have offered their services to the charity which vows to protect orphaned, abandoned and abused children with special needs, as well as children with terminal illnesses.

And while many think they can't help, Suzie is quick to remind us it is the basic things these children need.

"Even small things, like brushing their hair, reading to them, washing them; things a mum or dad would normally do, some of these kids are not orphans, they have families."

"The reality is many were abandoned when it was discovered they had special needs, due to financial burden or the fact they were disabled."

"It's a difficult life, no child should ever have to live in an orphanage," added Suzie. 

Suzie has continued to reside in Moldova, meeting her husband, Victor, and adopting two special needs children, Alex and Isabelle, but she had never imagined how quickly the charity would grow. 

Fast forward to present day and the charity now has a board of directors, a finance committee, and many helpful volunteers, which Suzie shares: "Without the support of these people we'd be lost."

"Children have got much needed wheelchairs thanks to these people. The work they do behind the scenes is incredible."

Remaining humble, Suzie reveals that her job has become part of her, it's a 24/7 shift: "You can't just walk away. They are real people."

Her own family is also of high importance; Suzie devotes as much time to her life in the home, taking on the usual role of taxi driver most days. How does she do it though?

"I have a very supportive family structure which is fantastic, but Alex and Isabelle have grown up in Outreach too, their best friends have Spina Bifida and Cerebral Palsy."

"I love that children look past disability – it is adults that look at it differently."

Adding to her already growing list of endeavours, Suzie is a member of the International Women's Club in Moldova, and acts as the Honourary Consulate to Ireland, factoring that mums need their own time too.

"Losing so many people makes me prioritise how people feel. None of us have it all figured out."

"However, you have the capacity to do anything, you have the ability. You can help. There's never a person who's not going to need you."

"There's never a person who's not going to want or appreciate you."

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