'I could walk for 24 hours... and then I was paralysed' - Woman on the accident that changed her life forever
Farm Safety Week took place nationwide this week aiming to reduce the number of accidents on farms. Here, survivor Kerrie Leonard tells her story
Kerrie Leonard (26), from Culmullen, Co Meath was accompanying her father on his tractor when she fell from the vehicle and was rolled over by the tractor wheel when she was six years old.
“It was the May Bank Holiday weekend so I would’ve been at home," she said.
"I was a tomboy as a kid and always on the farm and like most kids I’d always be sitting on my parent’s knee on the tractor. That weekend I was bouncing up and down on the tractor. There was no door on the cab. I fell and the wheel rolled on top of me.
“I remember being blind for 30 seconds following the fall and panicking about that but my sight came back in less than a minute. My arm pit was split open and I could see my shoulder socket. It was traumatic. I could walk for 24-hours after the injuries but my spinal cord started swelling and I became paralysed,” she added.
According to the Heath and Safety Authority in the last 10 years 23 children have been killed as a result of farm accidents. Kerrie finds this alarming and thinks that it’s about time “a clear distinction” is made between the farm yard and the home.
“You need to be vigilant and fix things that need to be repaired in time. Safety can lapse very easily because the workplace and the home are very much intertwined. A clear distinction needs to be made between the farm and the home. It’s very difficult to do that but tools need to be put in place to make it as safe as possible,” she said.
Following her accident, Kerrie spent eight weeks in Our Lady’s Hospital in Crumlin and had a further eight weeks of rehabilitation in Dun Laoghaire. Fast forward 20 years, Kerrie has a degree in equine science under her belt from Maynooth University, holds Ireland’s student archery record and is hoping to compete in the 2020 Japan Paralympics.
The Meath woman cites her parents, organic suckler farmers, Edward and Jacqueline as the reason behind her ability to “keep going”.
“When you live on a farm it’s a blessing in disguise because if you focus on the negatives like a dead animal or something, things can fall by the weigh side. It was a crisis but like any other crisis on a farm you can’t down tools as it’s your livelihood. Even on the hardest of days you have to keep going,” she added.
While Kerrie could’ve been forgiven for not wanting anything to do with farming after her injuries, she became more involved than ever with her hand-writing featuring in the farm’s herd books from the age of 11.
She balances her full-time job in Dell in Limerick with her passion for horses which she now breeds on the family farm and is currently completing the Green Cert agricultural course.
In August, the Meath woman completed a sky dive to mark the 20 anniversary of her accident.
“I did it because I don’t want to be known as the girl in the wheelchair who can’t do things. I say yes to everything and in a way am very much appreciative of my disability as it has given me the chance to compete internationally.”
Farm Safety Week took place nationwide this week aiming to reduce the number of accidents on farms and bring about a change in culture that makes unsafe practices socially unacceptable.
The initiative is supported by a number of organisations, including the Irish Farmers Association, Health and Safety Authority (HSA) and members of the Farm Safety Partnership Advisory Committee.
Farming continues to have one of the poorest safety records of any sector in Ireland, last year 24 people lost their lives in farm accidents and 11 people have lost their lives so far in 2018.