Dealing with the aftermath of spinal injury

Pictured at the launch of 'This is My Life' awareness programme were service users Tim Creedon and Trevor Martin with Sorcha Silke, Galway Community Outreach Officer.

Trevor Martin was a fit and healthy early retiree enjoying a round of golf when his life was changed forever.

It was the August bank holiday weekend in 2014 and the 57-year-old former regional brewery manager went off in search of a lost ball.

Unfortunately he fell into a dyke and landed on his back onto a stony patch of ground.

It was clear immediately that his injuries were catastrophic.

His central spinal cord was crushed and for three days he was a quadriplegic, unable to move any part of his body.

Trevor, from Corofin, was airlifted to University Hospital Galway but then had to be transferred by road ambulance to Beaumont Hospital in Dublin for an MRI, as the machine in UHG was not being operated over the weekend.

“I had to be intubated to be sent in the ambulance. I honestly thought I wouldn’t make it. I said my goodbyes to my wife,” he recalled this week.

While doctors waited for the swelling on the spinal cord to reduce, he was sent back to Merlin Park Hospital, where he remained for two months to recuperate.

Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon Aiden Devitt decided an operation to relieve the pressure on his spine was his best option.

A specialist spinal team to monitor the spinal cord during surgery was drafted in for the nine-hour operation. A month later, he began a difficult eight-week stint in the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire, for which he was on a waiting list for nearly six months.

“It’s an absolutely fantastic place – I can’t say enough about them. It’s like going to school – you have the whole week laid out for you – physio, hydrotherapy, gym work. Thank God I’m one of the lucky ones. I learned how to walk again.”

Trevor refused to let his boys – aged twelve and eleven – see him until after the rehabilitation.

“They didn’t see me for eight weeks. There were all sorts of rumours that daddy wouldn’t walk again. When they saw me I was standing on my own. I could walk but with a stick. It was marvellous.”

The damage has left his right leg feeling like he is constantly wearing a wet suit. His fine motor skills are now poor, as the messages to and from his brain are not getting through properly.

“It’s a life sentence. People go to jail for a life sentence but they get remission – we don’t,” he reflected.

“Everything is affected. I’ve difficulty buttoning a shirt, trying to zip a jacket, opening a carton of milk, trying to read a newspaper is impossible as I can’t separate the page. It’s very awkward. Everything feels different.”

“The boys have had to adjust – dad can’t go around playing ball – they now have to mind daddy. My wife Yvonne is my best carer. She’s absolutely fantastic. I don’t know how she’s managing it.”

While Trevor has huge praise for his consultant and the team in Dún Laoghaire, he is critical of the lack of supports for patients with spinal cord injuries. Essentially, they are discharged and left to their own devices.

The odd physio appointment is arranged and he has had one visit by an occupational therapist to assess his home situation.

He has had to seek counselling to deal with the emotional outfall of the accident.

“I did get into a black hole. You sort of say to yourself: ‘you stupid eejit. All this for a feckin’ €2 golf ball’. I have good days and bad days but overall I’m in good form.”

He believes there is a real need for a regional rehabilitation centre, where the 88 patients in Galway with a spinal cord injury could go for specialised physiotherapy and additional therapies.

“Over 40% of us are on the breadline because we can’t work. We’re not entitled to job training – we’re literally ignored.”

Spinal Injuries Ireland kicked-started their nationwide awareness programme – This Is My Life – in the Galway Bay Hotel this week to highlight the key issues facing those living with the condition.

“Our awareness programme is reaching out to those living with a spinal cord injury, their families, friends and health services professionals so that we can build a community which will influence change and improve supports and services,” according to Sorcha Silke, Galway Community Outreach Officer for Spinal Injuries Ireland.

“It is acknowledged by the World Health Organisation as one of the most devastating and life changing injuries that a person can sustain.”

For further information on the “This is My Life” Awareness Programme and on support services available to those with an SCI, log onto spinalinjuries.ie