Farm Ireland

Tuesday 12 December 2017

'A couple more inches to the left and I wouldn't be here at all'

Carlow dairy farmer Paddy Kennedy talks about rebuilding his life  after losing a leg  in a farm yard accident two years ago

Paddy Kennedy at his home in Cournellan, Borris, Co Carlow
Paddy Kennedy at his home in Cournellan, Borris, Co Carlow
Paddy Kennedy on his specially adapted tractor
Darragh McCullough

Darragh McCullough

"We were up to our eyeballs that April after such a rough spring in 2013.

As near misses go, they don't come much closer than Paddy Kennedy's accident on his farm at Cournellan just outside Borris in south Carlow back in April 2013.

"The loader took my ear clean off and went through my leg," Kennedy recalled.

In the bloodbath that followed, the farmer couldn't initially phone for help.

"I was trying to dial the doctor, but there was so much blood everywhere that I was just smearing it across the screen of the iPhone," he says, grinning now at the horrific image that the story conjures in people's minds.

Three months later Paddy's world had improved significantly.

Fitted with his first prosthetic limb, he was able to stand for a full three hours enjoying Bruce Springsteen's legendary marathon set at Nowlan Park in Kilkenny.

"There were times before that when I was enduring pain that I wouldn't wish on Saddam Hussein. Particularly when nerves were growing their way into new parts of what was left of my leg," he admits.

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Since the fitting of that first prosthesis, Paddy has endured various highs and lows. He has succeeded in getting his farm building business back in action, and continues to run his 160ac farm.

But his pride and joy, the 90-cow dairy operation that he built up over the space of a decade, remains in limbo as Paddy struggles to come to terms with what he can and can't do on a daily basis.

Much of the €750,000 development was being financed by Paddy's farm construction business that was flying on the back of the building boom in the noughties. But by the time of the accident, the building business was practically non-existent.

Neighbours and former employees all rowed in behind the Kennedy family to keep the show on the road for the first six months after the incident, but "it took three lads to do what I was nearly able to do myself," according to Paddy.

In an effort to simplify things on a temporary basis, Paddy decided to sell his milking cows and cease milk production for a year until he was fully recovered.

However, 21 months later, with 50 in-calf heifers on the point of calving, Kennedy finds himself unsure as to whether he really can get back into milk.

"I'm still a bit nervous around the cows, especially if they are bulling, because on the slats I've no grip at all. Little jobs like scraping down cubicles are a big deal for me.

"I'm able to milk, but I don't think I could do it full-time, and I really struggle on the straw bedded areas so I'm very dependent on help with calving and bedding sheds," he says.

With the way milk price is going, Paddy is now doubtful whether there is going to be enough of a return in the enterprise to justify the extra expenses that he'll incur.

Instead he has invested in a second-hand combine, on which he was able to modify the brakes.

"I cut 100ac of corn last year by myself no bother - just took it handy at my own pace."

He also needed a tractor that he could operate with just one leg, so Paddy has ended up shelling out over €100,000 for a new 145hp Fendt Vario 415 with a loader (pictured below).

He is also considering getting beef cattle to graze where the dairy herd would have once dominated.

But his big fear is that all the investment he put into building up the dairy enterprise will be for nothing if his nine year-old son James doesn't grow up being surrounded by milking cows.

"I don't want it going out of his head. My heart is still in it, but that's the killing part of it - if I go at it, it's possible it'll lead to another accident. But if I can't do it right, there's no point."

He also discovered that every time he needs to change his prosthesis - he's on his fourth one now - that a new leg costs €11,000.

"There's no way around it seemingly. And there's no insurance for it either - apparently I needed to lose two limbs before I qualified for any significant pay-out," he says.

Despite the costs and the set-backs - he was in hospital for two weeks before Christmas following yet another operation -Paddy remains thankful for what he has.

"It could've been my son, or a couple of inches to the left and I wouldn't be here talking to you at all," he remarks.

The choice was amputation or two years in hospital

"I was loading up the diet feeder with 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.

"A lug on the top of the bucket broke and it came down sideways, knocking me to the ground," he recalls.

Despite being knocked unconscious and having both his ear and leg sliced off, when Paddy came to he still had the strength to start calling for help.

Within the space of five minutes an ambulance was on its way.

"It covered the 23 mile journey from Carlow town in 20 minutes flat, and I was on my way to the Regional Hospital in Waterford," he says.

Paddy, who was still fully alert, demanded that the doctors tell him straight what they thought of his injuries.

They said it was the worst situation they'd ever seen.

That night the 39-year-old went into surgery for three hours as the doctors tried desperately to reattach his leg.

Two weeks of subsequent operations left Kennedy facing a stark choice.

Two years in hospital with skin grafts every two weeks or amputation.

He opted for amputation without a moment's hesitation.

"I wanted to keep as much of the leg as was required to allow me to get back to the farm as fast as possible".

Indo Farming