Thursday 14 November 2019

'He couldn't move, he couldn't talk, he was unconscious, dying in front of my eyes'

claire mc cormack

Time is not on your side when concussion hits, said the mother of a 14-year-old boy who was pronounced ­"clinically dead" after a clash during a rugby warm-up session.

The date was November 3, 2012, and Ronan Fitzgerald, a cousin of Kerry football star Kieran Donaghy, was in Tralee Rugby Club at rugby practice.

His mother, Sheila, told the Sunday Independent: "We got a phone call to the house and they just said that Ronan was feeling a little bit unwell and that there was no panic or worry or rush for us to get to the rugby club".

But by the time Sheila and her husband Brian arrived at the club, their son, who was 12 at the time, was lying in a dugout with his legs elevated, a "massive vomit" on the ground in front of him and he was unresponsive.

"He was the colour of death. He was white as a ghost," said Sheila, a nurse who instantly knew that an ambulance should have been called.

"I knew something was seriously wrong and I said to myself, it's concussion."

Ronan was lifted into the back of the car by two coaches and his very worried parents took their son the short distance to Kerry General Hospital.

"I checked his pulse in the back of the car and it was dropping rapidly," said Sheila, adding that Ronan couldn't stand when they got to the hospital.

"He couldn't move, he couldn't talk, he was unconscious and he was dying in front of my eyes, is the only way to describe it."

Ronan was rushed into casualty and was assessed immediately. Sheila praises the staff for their quick intervention.

"They told me it was very serious and that he had a massive epidural haemorrhage - the same bleed Liam Neeson's wife died of," said Sheila, who was extremely panicked at the time.

Ronan had to be ventilated in Kerry General and was then transferred to Cork University Hospital (CUH) by ambulance.

Meanwhile, Ronan's cousin Kieran Donaghy, and other relatives, rushed to the family's side.

"Kieran couldn't believe what was unfolding in front of our eyes. We didn't know if he was going to survive the journey to Cork."

The family had a garda escort all the way to CUH.

"I knew things were really bad and I found out after that Ronan had clinically died as the ambulance arrived in Cork, his eyes had become fixed and dilated."

When Ronan was taken out of the ambulance, he was dead. But the medical team brought him straight into emergency surgery and brought him back.

"He was alive but they didn't know if he would ­survive the next 24 hours," Sheila added.

The next morning, neurosurgeon Charlie Marks told the Fitzgeralds that it was probably one of the worst rugby head injuries he had ever seen and that it was "an absolute miracle he survived".

Although Ronan had to learn to walk, talk, read and write again, his condition is very good now. However, his parents are urging the Government, schools and the public to act immediately on incidents when concussion strikes.

"It was a full hour before I got to Ronan and got him into the hands that saved his life," said Sheila.

"He has done very well and we are blessed to have him but time is not on your side on those days as a parent, a coach or as a bystander; it is imperative to go straight to A&E."

To this day Ronan's family still don't know whether he got a boot to the head or a clash of heads during the warm up.

The family are eternally grateful to all the medical teams who have helped Ronan and the Kerry senior team for their support.

Sunday Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News