Sport Horse Racing

Friday 9 December 2016

"I was dead for six seconds, now I can't wait to ride again," says jockey who was given three per cent chance to live

Published 08/06/2015 | 19:23

Jockey Brian Toomey at Doncaster Racecourse
Jockey Brian Toomey at Doncaster Racecourse

Brian Toomey feels his astonishing return to race riding after suffering life-threatening injuries that left him "dead for six seconds" will be like achieving the impossible.

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A total of 704 days had passed since his fall at Perth on July 4, 2013 before the British Horseracing Authority was sufficiently convinced the Irishman had made a full recovery.

While his first ride may still be some weeks off as he puts the finishing touches to his core fitness, the biggest obstacle has been overcome.

When he fell from Solway Dandy, Toomey was placed in an induced coma in the high dependency unit of Ninewells Hospital, in Dundee, for two weeks, and had surgery to reduce swelling on his brain, including the removal of part of his skull. He remained in hospital for 157 nights.

Toomey said: "It's been a long road back, but the one thing that has driven me throughout my recovery, and the main thing that has kept me going, was a desire to be a jockey again, and I am delighted that I've been cleared to ride.

"Following the accident, the paramedics said that I was dead for six seconds, but they managed to resuscitate me.

"Then when I made it to the hospital they thought that I only had a three per cent chance of survival. Now here I am, two years on, ready to race ride again."

Before being granted his licence, the 26-year-old had to meet the medical criteria for a return to race riding which assesses his fitness to ride, ability to control a horse safely and the risk of further injury if he were to fall.

He then had to undergo a full medical assessment by the BHA chief medical adviser Dr Jerry Hill, which examined not only his physical health but also his mental functions.

Toomey said: "I know there will be people who will say I'm mad to want to come back but as part of my rehabilitation I had to retake my driving licence and when I passed the instructor told me I had a 20 per cent chance of being in a car crash so that put things slightly into perspective.

Brian Toomey
Brian Toomey

"It's been my dream since I was a boy to be a jockey and it's a job and life I love, and I was absolutely determined that if I couldn't make it back, it wouldn't be through a lack of effort on my part.

"It was a long time, but people underestimated my recovery powers. They didn't think I could get back. I kept up the mental strength, and positive thinking can achieve the impossible.

"A lot of people thought me coming back was impossible, but I've achieved it."

Once the medical was completed, Toomey was still required to show his physical fitness and capability to ride in a series of tests held at the British Racing School and Northern Racing College before being issued his licence.

During his rehabilitation, Toomey spent periods riding out for trainers like Nigel Twiston-Davies, Willie Mullins, Enda Bolger and Jonjo O'Neill, as well as a significant period of time at Oaksey House under the care of the Injured Jockeys Fund.

The jockey will, however, still err on the side of caution as he edges closer towards a remarkable comeback.

He said: "I'm going to take my time and work on my fitness before taking my first ride. I haven't been promised one as such and I don't really want to set a date.

"Dave Roberts is my agent and he has all the right contacts.

"I've been riding out a lot for Phil Kirby and he has been absolutely brilliant, he's like a best friend and he has been brilliant to me through all this.

"I'm 26 now so I'm no longer a conditional, I'll just be a professional claiming 3lb. I think I've about 12 winners before I lose it.

"I hope what I've been through can serve as an inspiration for others who injure themselves and are told that they might never return to doing what they love.

"I know AP McCoy and he sent me a text when he heard the news, which he didn't have to do, and it was a very touching message. He's one of a kind. There'll never be another like him, that's for sure."

Toomey's extended family includes the McNamaras in Ireland and it has been a traumatic few years for them.

Amateur JT McNamara, considered a master of his craft, remains paralysed from the neck down following a fall at the Cheltenham Festival and Robbie McNamara is currently bound to a wheelchair as he continues to recover from a fall on the eve of this year's Grand National.

Given all that trauma, Toomey's parents were still supportive of his decision to return.

"It's not been easy, obviously, and as happy as my family are about my return, what happened to JT and Robbie is still fresh," he said.

"I had a text off JT today and that means a hell of a lot that he's pleased for me.

"My parents were happy for me to return, though, as they know how much riding means to me."

Dr Hill highlighted Toomey's strength of character as being a pivotal factor in his return to the saddle.

He said: "Brian has shown through his medical assessments and physical tests that he is fit to ride again.

"For the purposes of Brian's application we treated him in the same manner that we would any other rider, in terms of that the bar was set at the same level we expect of all professional jockeys.

"No allowances were made for his injuries and the length of his absence from the sport, which makes all the more remarkable the scale of his recovery.

"The fact that Brian is still alive is a testament to the first-class medical care which exists on British racecourses."

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