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Swimming helps to restore sense of normality for Galway man left in a wheelchair after fall

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Swimming is a therapeutic sport for many – but for one Galway man, being in the water is more than that; it’s empowering.

Sam Fleming is 36 years old and suffered a brain injury after falling off his bicycle close to his home in Kinvara when he was 20 years of age.

The severe head injury he obtained from this accident has resulted in Sam becoming a strong advocator for cyclists to wear helmets – something he wasn’t doing on the day of his accident.

Sam’s injury has had a monumental effect on his life. He is unable to walk and has been wheelchair-dependant since his fall. Several other brain functions have also been affected by the accident.

His brain injury “has screwed life up big time,” he said. After the accident, he lost his independence and now requires assistance for day-to-day living; “a wife would be good,” he joked.

While a wife would surely be a welcome addition to Sam’s life, it’s his family and friends who have helped him through tough times and stuck by him so far.

Following his accident, Sam has joined the Octopus Swimming Club in Kilcornan and attends pool sessions every Monday evening.

It was at these sessions that he got to know John Griffin who has been working with Sam since his accident.

“It was through [John] that I joined the club around five years ago and I’ve been a constant feature since then,” said his son, Dualta Griffin.

The Octopus Swimming Club was established by Mary Arrigan Langan in October of 1981. Its aim is to provide a facility where people who have a physical disability can get in the water and enjoy the benefits that it brings.

The club uses the Halliwick concept, which was designed to teach people with a physical disability to swim, helping them to become more independent in the water.

It was developed in England in the 1940s by a man called James McMillan, an engineer in fluidmechanics.

Mr McMillan’s main aims when developing this concept were participation and independence. Willingness to lose balance and knowing how to regain that balance and stand up again are core elements.

Halliwick is a structured programme that teaches participants to be happy in the water, helping them to gain some confidence and perhaps learn new skills.

The benefits are enormous, allowing freedom of movement in the water, giving participants a sense of independence while also giving them all the benefits of being active and partaking in a sports activity.

For Sam, the activity has given him the “feel good factor”. He has made many new friends along the way, but most importantly, he has started to walk in the water completely unaided.

“I feel I’ve benefited greatly from the Halliwick swimming – [I’m] more confident in the water. I can take a few steps unaided and that’s a great feeling for me,” Sam explained.

“It’s inspiring to see the others progressing as well. If it weren’t for Mary Arrigan, the organiser, and all the volunteers, people like me would have very little chance of ever being in the water,” he added.

Participants at the club experience a huge sense of empowerment when in the water. The activity boosts the cardiovascular system, helps swimmers control their balance, breathing and lung capacity while also strengthening the musculoskeletal structure.

Furthermore, once a person masters the art of swimming, there is no limit to the number of new activities they can undertake, from sailing and canoeing to water-skiing, scuba-diving and snorkelling.

The activity is also beneficial to the volunteers who get a huge sense of satisfaction from helping another person reach their full potential, while also benefiting their own lives.

“My time at this club has been very special to me. Spending time with Sam and the friends I have made, the craic I have had and the skills I have developed during the time at the club so far have been very special to me,” said Dualta Griffin who has recently started studying Physiotherapy in Limerick, largely thanks to his experience with the Octopus Swimming Club.

“I am constantly amazed by people’s progress in the water and have been lucky to see someone, who wouldn’t let go of the railing when they arrived, start swimming a basic stroke whilst completely submersing their head.

“I believe that everyone involved gets a lot from being part of the club and part of this is due to their determination to improve their skills in the water whilst enjoying their time there,” he added.

Mr Griffin stressed the importance of helping people to develop skills in the water and said this has been very rewarding for him, resulting in a desire to work professionally in this area.

“I am now studying Physiotherapy in UL and I have the people in the club to thank for giving me the belief in myself and passion to pursue this career path and I look forward to spending time there again during my holidays,” he said.

If you are interested in finding out more about the club, contact Breda Ansboro on 086 358 9365 or visit www.octopusswimmingclub.com. You can also like the Octupus Swimming Club on Facebook.

Connacht Tribune

Help at hand for hand-pressed families this Christmas

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SVP Galway area President Séamus McManus.

Galway people struggling to cover the cost of Christmas have been urged to seek help from the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul.

The SVP Galway area’s network of 27 conferences is experiencing a surge in requests for help with food, energy and heating bills as the cost-of-living soars – but Galway area President Séamus McManus insisted help was at hand.

“There is hope out there, and there is help available for people in trouble. We might not be able to do everything but we can help, especially coming up to Christmas.

“Imagine a Christmas that is cold and hungry? That would be no Christmas at all, so we have help. We want people to at least enjoy those few days of Christmas,” Mr McManus said.

SVP said it was “deeply concerned” by new Central Statistics Office data which showed a sharp rise in households going without essentials such as nutritious food, adequate heating and clothing; up by 184,000 to 875,000 people nationally compared with 2021.

SVP nationally is getting an average of 800 calls per day, which is up about 20% on last year. This is mirrored in Galway city and county, too, Mr McManus said.

“We’ve had some heart-breaking requests where the main breadwinner had a serious diagnosis and it meant their whole life has been thrown into turmoil; they can’t pay rent, they can’t pay ordinary family living expenses.

“We’ve also had students with mental health issues who have had to pull out of college and lose their SUSI grants and they’re left high and dry. We’ve had people with relationship breakdown, where maintenance wouldn’t be forthcoming and they’re left in a precarious position,” he added.

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie. You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Galway Professor on taking the reins as country’s top doc

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Chief Medical Officer, Breda Smyth.

Three weeks after Professor Breda Smyth was appointed Ireland’s interim Chief Medical Officer (CMO), the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Monkeypox outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

It proved a baptism of fire for Tony Holohan’s successor, who already had the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic in her in-tray.

But the Mayo native, who lives in Galway, took it all in her stride.

“It’s a significant responsibility. I am taking it one step at a time,” said the country’s first female CMO.

And in fairness, it’s not like she’s wet round the ears when it comes to strategising for infectious diseases.

Professor Smyth may be best known outside of medical circles in Galway for her traditional Irish musical talents, but she was also the public face of the Covid-19 pandemic as HSE West Director of Public Health.

Through that HSE role, which she held for 13 years, she became a member of NPHET (the National Public Health Emergency Team) that advised Government on how to steer the country through the pandemic; as well as being a member of the Expert Advisory Group on Rapid Testing, and a founding member of the Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group.

That experience stood to her since becoming interim CMO in July, which progressed to a permanent position in October.

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie. You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Former Minister slams ‘rotten and corrupt’ IFI

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Senator Sean Kyne.

By Dara Bradley

A Galway Senator has slammed Inland Fisheries Ireland as ‘rotten and corrupt’ – and Fine Gael’s Seán Kyne has threatened to use parliamentary privilege to highlight what he labelled as ‘issues of corruption’ within IFI.

Senator Kyne is a former Minister of State with responsibility for natural resources, which encompassed IFI which itself is responsible for the protection of waters, including Lough Corrib. Speaking in the Seanad last Thursday, he referenced a review that was commissioned by the Minister for the Environment, Climate Action and Communications, Eamon Ryan, into the functioning of the board of IFI.

A report by senior counsel Conleth Bradley concluded last July and was sent to the Department and to IFI before being published on November 7.

Senator Kyne said he has read the report, which used legalese to conclude: “There is not a basis, from the alleged disclosures and the information and documentation which have been reviewed, for the Minister to be satisfied that the functions of IFI are not being performed in an effective manner such as to give effect to the removal of all members of IFI from office.”

Get the full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune, on sale in shops now, or you can download the digital edition from www.connachttribune.ie. You can also download our Connacht Tribune App from Apple’s App Store or get the Android Version from Google Play.

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