Aoife's godfather tells of Berkeley shock
Hundreds gather at tag-rugby fundraiser for balcony victims
He was the first to get confirmation that Aoife Beary was "still alive" after falling from a balcony at her 21st birthday party in Berkeley, California.
While her distressed parents were on a flight to the US - unaware of their daughter's condition - Aoife's godfather, James O'Doherty, got word that she was on the critical list at a local hospital.
"We contacted a relation that lives in the area. She went straight to the hospital and was able to tell me very quickly that Aoife was critical but alive," he told the Sunday Independent.
Speaking at a special tag rugby fundraiser for his niece in Donnybrook yesterday, Mr O'Doherty instantly recalled the moment he heard of the tragedy that claimed the lives of six Irish students - Eimear Walsh, Lorcan Miller, Eoghan Culligan, Niccolai Schuster, Olivia Burke and Irish-American citizen Ashley Donohue - and seriously injured seven others.
It was also traumatic for those others who were actually inside the Library Gardens apartment when the beams gave way on June 16. Leah Fitzpatrick (21), a Dublin City University student and childhood friend of Aoife Beary, was at the fundraiser yesterday: "We were in the apartment but we don't remember seeing it, we were all in shock", said the brave young woman still too upset to publicly recount the events of that night.
After getting the call, Mr O'Doherty and his wife Patricia "dropped everything" at their home in Westport and drove to Blackrock, Dublin to care for Aoife's brother and sister while their parents Mike and Angela frantically tried to figure out how to get to the United States.
"It was a tremendous shock, we were all just numb. Family members on both sides immediately gathered and there was about 20 of us there minding Tim and Anna that night," he said. "It came through very quickly that there were some dead but they had no idea of the condition of Aoife when they were getting on the airplane that night with three other families," said Mr O'Doherty, who describes his niece as a "strong, independent and kind young woman".
Two weeks ago, following successful heart surgery, Aoife was moved to Valley Medical Rehab Centre in Santa Clara where her friends Hannah Waters (21), from Castleknock, and Clodagh Cogley (21) from Milltown, are also under going rehabilitation.
Although most of her physical injuries are under control, her uncle stressed that it doesn't mean she is out of the woods.
"She is in a cast and over the next week they are going to start assessing the brain injury to see what her rehab plan will look like," he said. Despite her inability to speak or communicate in a normal way, doctors are encouraged by her cognitive response to others.
"When the medical team ask her to do something she can respond to it, not automatically or immediately but she does it, which tells them that she is processing the order and that gives us a lot of hope," said Mr O'Doherty, adding that Aoife is not yet aware of the extent of the tragedy.
Although it is not known when Aoife will be able to return to Ireland, her proud godfather says there's no point being angry about the catastrophe; however, the families need answers. "We are just trying to be as useful as possible but if people understood there was some problem with the construction then steps should have been taken to ensure no one was exposed.
"It wasn't going to collapse with a pot of flowers or a cat jumping on it, it was going to collapse when people were on it," he said, adding that they fell from a five-storey height by Irish building standards.
"Aoife, as well as all those kids who looked out and saw that dreadful loss of life and how close they were to it, will need a lot of help over the next few years to really come to terms with it and realise that none of them were at fault," said Mr O'Doherty, who was in charge of food at the fundraiser that had collected a whopping €10,500 from players by midday.
Irish rugby legend Ollie Campbell also felt compelled to attend.
"I think this is only the beginning of the fundraising. Irish people over history come up trumps at times like this," he said.