On Thursday morning, at 10am, on 27 June 2013, our son Pádraig was knocked off his bicycle as he cycled to work on Cape Cod. He had planned to spend the summer on a J1 visa while he considered which of his many plans he would pursue, having just finished his undergraduate studies in Trinity College Dublin.
Pádraig went to primary school in Scoil Mobhí in Glasnevin, he then moved on to CUS, spent part of his transition year at the Olympic Training Centre and boarding school in Berlin, completed fifth and sixth year in Coláiste Eoin (Bóthar Stigh Lorgan), and then studied Irish and History at TCD. He is well known in Irish-speaking circles because of his role as Reachtaire of the TCD Cumann Gaelach, his involvement with many Irish language activities and his radio broadcasts, and because earlier this year he edited the book An Scríbhneoir Óg.
In Cape Cod his life changed in just a split second. A van, travelling at speed, hit Pádraig from behind and knocked him off his bicycle. His head hit the windscreen and left a dent in the van’s ‘A-pillar’. When his body hit the road, he had lost consciousness and was not breathing. A passing nurse resuscitated him and he was then brought to Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, where he was operated on immediately. His bone plate, part of his skull, was removed to release the pressure from the swelling of the brain. Although he did not have other injuries, his life hung in the balance. He had received a devastating brain injury and doctors did not have much hope for his survival. Family, friends he had lived with on the Cape, and other friends from Trinity College Dublin who had travelled up from Boston and New York were continuously at his bedside.
After he had spent two and a half weeks in Cape Cod Hospital, we decided to bring him home. Although his €6.5 million J1 travel insurance declined all cover because he had not been wearing a cycle helmet (although a cycle helmet in a blow of this force makes minimal or no difference and there was no legal requirement to wear one), they offered his repatriation ‘ex gratia’, following days of very difficult, stressful phone negotiations. Doctors at home arranged for Pádraig to be admitted to Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, on 15 July. He survived the long journey and, after a spell in intensive care, spent the following three and a half months in a high-dependency ward in Beaumont where he remained in a coma.
In Beaumont, he was immediately put on the waiting list for the National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH) in Dún Laoghaire. We quickly learned that Beaumont, an acute hospital, is no place for patients with severe brain injuries who require highly specialised care and therapy. Although there was no lack of goodwill, long-term coma patients require a different kind of care from patients who spend just a few days on a ward.
We visited the NRH and went to see two hospitals offering early intensive neuro-rehab in Germany. At this point, we were told that Pádraig would have to wait around four months to get one of the three beds available in Ireland for patients in his condition. His time in this bed would be limited to the standard three months (with the possibility of an extension). When we told this to the German consultants, who work in a very different environment, they described it as ‘grotesque’ and ‘unethical’. They said that Pádraig needed early intensive neuro-rehab immediately. (British consultants we spoke to confirmed this need.) Following our return from Germany, Pádraig’s NRH consultant told us that the waiting list was in fact worse than expected, and that Pádraig would have to wait nine months, instead of four as we had been told previously, before he could be admitted in the NRH. In effect, this would be about one year after his accident.
We decided that it was time to move. Although the HSE is legally obliged to pay for treatment abroad if the necessary treatment is not available in Ireland, we were told by consultants that the chances that this would happen were slim at best. One rehab consultant even told us she would not waste her time filling in the application.
While we managed to insure Pádraig for treatment in Germany, as a German citizen moving back to the country, we have had to cover very significant expenses since the accident happened. His air ambulance flight to Germany alone cost 12,000 euro and had to be paid for by the family.
Many people have asked if they could help ease the financial burden on the family. For anyone who would like to make a contribution, the following account has been set up:
AIB, Blackthorn Road, Sandyford Industrial Estate, Dublin 18.
Name on Account Caring For Padraig
Sort Code 93-35-70
Account Number 51728089
IBAN IE70 AIBK 9335 7051 7280 89
Alternatively, you can contribute online.
A special committee has been set up to coordinate the fundraising efforts and to administer any funds raised. This committee is independent of our family and will be fully accountable as to how money raised is spent. (For further details on fundraising see: About)
We will use all our energy, once Pádraig’s condition has improved, to highlight the shortcomings of insurance policies sold to young students planning to work abroad; the inadequate protection of cyclists in the US by the authorities; and, most importantly, the lack of appropriate care and therapy for patients with brain injury in Ireland.
Finally, although Pádraig’s accident was horrific, one of the offshoots has been an outpouring of the warmest and most sincere support and goodwill from family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, medical staff, even strangers. This is something we will always cherish and for which we will always be grateful. It is this solidarity that has helped us through our darkest moments.
Please email any questions or comments you might have.
Pat O’Byrne and Reinhard Schäler
(Reinhard writes a personal blog about the move to Germany at www.hospi-tales.com)
Last changed: 26 Dec 2013