“On the 23rd of July 1998, just four days after my 19th birthday, it was just another Thursday at work as an apprentice carpenter, or so I thought….little did I know, in the blink of an eye, my life would be turned upside down and changed forever.
Shortly after lunchtime, as I was working on a roof of a two story house on a building site in Leixlip, the scaffolding gave way from underneath me and I fell, about 24ft. I’ll never forget trying to grab scaffolding bars mid fall trying to save myself or break my fall, but unlike you see in the movies it’s near impossible. I hit the ground with tremendous force. Unfortunately I landed on a scaffolding plank on its side, I’ll never forget the sound of hearing my back snap and the pain that followed. Immediately I knew I was in serious trouble. My legs went all pins and needles and I couldn’t move them. It seemed like an age waiting on the emergency services to arrive, but it probably only took about half an hour. I was rushed straight to the Mater hospital where I underwent a 5 hour operation.
The next day, surrounded by very upset and concerned family members and my girlfriend Rachel, a doctor explained to me that I had sustained a double fractured broken back but more importantly inoperable damage had been done to my spinal cord. I was paralysed from the waist down and I might never walk again!!!
During the next two weeks in the Mater spinal ward, I was bed bound. You have all day for things to play on your mind, maybe I was in denial but paralysis long term never really crossed my mind. I have always been a very positive guy, I just presumed I was going to make a full recovery and be back on my feet in no time. A specialist from The National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH) came to assess me and it was decided that I would be going there in a couple weeks to learn to be independent again.
I must admit before being a patient in the NRH I never even knew it existed, and wow what an amazing place it was. I was surrounded by stroke, amputee, paraplegic, quadriplegic, tetraplegic (neck down) and brain injury patients. There’s no feeling sorry for yourself there, there is always someone much worse off than you. All the staff from nurses, doctors, physiotherapists and occupational therapists do the most amazing job with one goal in mind, to get the patient back to being as independent and healthy as possible. They are inspirational.
I was still very sick when I arrived at the NRH, I just couldn’t stop vomiting, it was like my body just couldn’t adapt to being paralysed. Kildare won the Leinster final that week and Davey Dalton (Kilcock legend) brought a few of the players in to see me. That visit gave me great encouragement and belief. I stopped getting sick that day and was finally on the road to recovery.
Being put into a wheelchair for the first time was very traumatic! It was a strange and scary feeling. I think myself, Rachel and the whole family cried for most of that day. A family therapist came to see us and I have to say it was one of the toughest days of my life.
I never looked back from that day on, I am a very positive person, I was ready to move forward, that was my only “bad” day.
After I had my back brace removed I worked very hard, learning how to dress myself again, to go to the toilet, building up strength in the physio department each day so that I could push about in the wheelchair. I was determined to make the best of my situation. I even learned how to drive.
I had great fun with all the nurses, doctors and staff each day. They filled my days with fun, divilment and laughter. You wouldn’t feel like you were in a hospital at all.
I got to meet some of the most amazing people, patients who were going through the exact same journey as me. The bonds that you make in hospital are very special. You are there for each other and you become almost family. I guess it’s a bit like war vets, you have mutual respect for one another and maybe only people who have lived through such a life altering experience can truly understand the other. I’m glad to say I’m still in contact with a few of these very dear friends.
Apart from the amazing support I received during this time from Rachel and my family, I also was blessed with a super network of friends and a very warm community spirit in my home town of Kilcock. Nobody treated me any differently when I returned home in a wheelchair, this made my transition so much easier to just move on with my life and not dwell on the past.
Shortly after my release from the NRH, Rachel and I went travelling for a few months. We saw the world, places like Australia and New Zealand, it was a truly amazing experience. Then we settled down, built a house and got married. We have been truly blessed with three amazing kids. I am a stay at home dad and I have to say I love it. It’s the most rewarding job in the world. My kids are everything to me.”
“Alright I never got power or feeling back in my legs, but I did recover to have a powerful life”.
Lester’s Fundraising Challenge:
When Lester heard about the new hospital development underway in the NRH, he decided he wanted to give something back to the hospital. He decided to take up the challenge of climbing Croagh Patrick in a custom made wheelchair. Funds raised from this amazing event will go direct to support patients in the National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH) and also service users in Spinal Injuries Ireland (SII).