Sunday 1 February 2015

They told me I'd never walk again -- now I run marathons

After cracking his skull on the pavement, doctors had little hope for Adrian O'Connor. Today, he can run 26 miles, writes John Costello

It was the night Adrian O'Connor's life changed forever. But he can't remember a thing. Life was good for the Sports Science graduate of University of Limerick. Nicknamed "Christy", he was well-known locally and was a key player on the Castlegregory GAA football team in Kerry.

He had returned to university and completed the second year of a degree in Civil Engineering in UCC while working in Enterprise rent-a-car. Then on December 15, 2004, the blossoming promise of this gifted 28-year-old came to a shattering halt.

Adrian had travelled to London with a group of friends to celebrate the wedding of a close pal. He went out on the town to kick-start the celebrations with a few pints the night before the big day. It was on the way back to the hotel when disaster struck.

Adrian tripped and fell to the pavement. It all seemed pretty innocuous. His friends bent down to give him a hand up but soon realised something was wrong. It had not been a heavy fall but their friend remained motionless on the ground.

As they knelt beside him they saw he had fallen awkwardly and cracked his skull on the pavement.

One minute Adrian was in London celebrating; the next his life was on the line. He still remembers few of the details surrounding the fall that nearly killed him.

"That's the problem with a brain injury," he says with a smile. "I know the doctors were giving me little hope of ever walking or talking again, but thankfully I was in another place at the time and wasn't listening."

Adrian had been induced into a coma to reduce the swelling in his brain and things looked grim for the sports-loving footballer. Surgeons told his mother and brother that if he survived he would never walk, let alone play football.

"I was always mentally strong and I got great encouragement from my family and friends," he says. "My girlfriend kept on reminding me that I always managed to do the opposite of what people expected, so she always had faith in me."

It took Adrian three weeks to finally wake from the coma. He then underwent surgery to repair his shattered skull. By the end of December he had the staples removed from his head while doctors spent several weeks to ensure his condition slowly stabilised.

He soon returned home from London and was transferred to Kerry General Hospital where his condition was closely monitored.

But after his homecoming, things quickly took a dramatic turn for the worse.

Fluid began building up in Adrian's brain and he was quickly moved to Cork University Hospital where a valve was used to drain the fluid and relieve the tension on his brain.

But while undergoing treatment he contracted two deadly infections -- CDIFF and MRSA.

"My parents used to bring me out in a wheelchair and try to get me to try a few steps," he recalls.

"I nearly cried because I couldn't. But I never gave up. Even though I could not speak or walk I never gave up hope."

True to form, Adrian defied all the odds. He not only began talking again in 2006, but shocked his physiotherapists when he began taking his first steps in 2007. However, Adrian had only just begun to prove the medical world wrong.

Irish Independent

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