"The loader took my ear clean off and went through my leg, leaving just skin"
Published 27/11/2013 | 01:00
"I'll never forget Saturday, April 27, 2013," says Carlow dairy farmer Paddy Kennedy. "That week was an unbelievably busy week. After the rough spring, that was the first break we got in the weather so we were up to our eyeballs."
Paddy had been top-dressing corn in one of his tillage fields with eldest son James, 7, supervising operations at his side. As milking time approached, Paddy was joined in the field by Philip Ryan, who works for him on the farm and in his agricultural buildings business, Kennedy Construction.
"James asked me if he could stay with Philip to help him pick stones while I went home to start the cows," recalls Paddy. "His mother was gone to Mass, so I said grand."
Back at the yard, Paddy set about filling the diet feeder to feed the cows using the farm's loader.
"I loaded up with the straights but I couldn't remember whether I'd filled up with silage that morning or not," says Paddy. "So I jumped down off the loader and hopped up on the ladder of the diet feeder to check."
What happened next was to change life for Paddy and his family.
"A lug on the top of the bucket broke and it came down sideways, knocking me to the ground," he recalls. Momentarily knocked unconscious, the farmer came to and immediately realised he was in serious trouble.
"The loader took my ear clean off and went through my leg, leaving just a few inches of skin joining my leg attached between the knee and ankle," he says. "I tried to lift my leg but my boot stayed where it was on the ground."
Incredibly, the farmer then orchestrated his own rescue operation.
"Brena (his wife) was gone to Mass and my own mother was just out of hospital herself so I rang my doctor, Dr Byrne and my nieghbours Frank and Kathleen Hynes," he says.
Dr Byrne, who was at a conference in Dublin, heard Paddy say he was in "serious bother" and he immediately called the ambulance service, giving them Paddy's mobile number and began to drive home.
"I rang Dr Byrne at 17.52 and the ambulance crew rang me at 17.57 when they were leaving Carlow town, 23 miles away," says Paddy. "They landed in my yard at 17 minutes past six and I was on the road on the way to the Regional Hospital in Waterford one hour after the loader fell."
In Waterford, consultant Dermot Moloney and his team surrounded Paddy, who was still fully alert and demanding to know what the doctors thought of his injuries.
"I asked the reg to tell me straight up what the story was and he told me it was the worst situation he'd ever seen," says Paddy. That night the 39-year-old went into surgery for three hours to try to reattach his leg. He went back into surgery again on the Monday night and on the following Wednesday a "nail" was inserted to join what was left of the bone under his knee to his ankle.
"I was told I would go to Cork for skin grafts and I could be home in 15 days," recalls Paddy. "But in the back of my mind I knew something was not right."
A fortnight later, his premonition was proven correct when the Cork consultant told the farmer he had two options. The first was to stay in hospital for up to two years, with the doctors taking strips of skin from his back every fortnight to graft onto his leg. The second was amputation.
"It'll be amputation," Paddy told the doctor immediately.
"I rang home and my mother answered. I told mammy the news wasn't good and the leg might have to go. She said it might be for the best. Brena said the same, that she would be 100pc behind me no matter what my decision was."
"The doctors and I decided to leave as much of my leg as possible and amputate through the knee so that I would have enough power to go back farming."
After the operation, Paddy asked his friend James Lalor, a kitchen maker, to make a small coffin for his amputated leg.
"Myself and three other lads -- John Byrne, Sean Byrne and Michael Doyle -- usually dig the graves for families in our locality.
The lads dug a hole while I was in hospital and my leg was buried with my father in the graveyard."
The idea came from Paddy's neighbour and former employer Paddy Skelton, who had himself lost an arm in an accident.
On May 30, almost six weeks after his accident, Paddy returned home and on June 4, went to his local pub in a wheelchair to celebrate his 40th birthday with a couple of pints.
The following day, Paddy was crippled by pain.
"Because the nerves were severed during the surgery, the nerve ends have to grow into new destinations in what's left of your leg. I wouldn't wish that pain on Saddam Hussein."
By early July, the pain faded and the farmer went to Cappagh Hospital for the first fittings of his prosthetic limb. Just a fortnight later, he joined friends to see rock legend Bruce Springsteen in Kilkenny, standing on his new artificial limb for the duration of the concert.
The farmer has gone from strength to strength ever since. He started back milking his cows in early September, spread his slurry and drew silage using an automatic Fendt lent to him by Kehoe Brothers in Camolin and a Valmet provided by the dealership in Kilkenny.
Despite his ordeal, Paddy remains resolutely positive.
"I am a quare lucky man to be alive and I thank God every day that James didn't come home with me that evening. If he had, he would certainly have been standing beside me and been killed by the loader," he says. "If the loader didn't come down on me it would have been James and I could not have lived with myself if he was killed."
Looking forward to the future, Paddy is planning to adapt his farm for easier mobility around the yard (see panel) and has plenty of work in his farm buildings business.
"Everything happens for a reason and I'm just happy it was me and not my son under the loader."