Monday 20 August 2018

Exclusive: 'I forever feel 19' - Patricia Ingle (29) opens up her home to share her remarkable outlook after contracting virus from parrot

  • Patricia Ingle (29) was left in a coma after getting a rare virus from a parrot while working in Petmania in 2008
  • For the first time, after re-learning how to speak, she invites Independent.ie into her home to share her remarkable story
  • 'I have no hate, I blame no-one' - Patricia bravely says
  • The Ingle family share their experiences and how life will never again be the same
Patricia Ingle with her parents Annette and Patrick at home.
Picture Fergal Phillips
Patricia Ingle with her parents Annette and Patrick at home. Picture Fergal Phillips
Patricia Ingle Photo: Fergal Phillips
Patricia Ingle in her bedroom Photo: Fergal Phillips
Patricia Ingle and her sister Kiera just days before Patricia contracted the virus
Patricia's first Christmas in Cork University Hospital in 2009
Patricia Ingle with her parents Pat and Annette and sister Melissa and Kiera
Patricia Ingle with her sisters Melissa and Kiera
Patricia Ingle speaking to speech therapy students in the University of Limerick
Patricia Ingle celebrating her birthday at home with her family after being released from hospital
Catherine Devine

Catherine Devine

A young woman who was left severely disabled as a result of contracting a rare disease from a parrot has said that she "has no anger" and "doesn't blame anyone" for her tragic illness.

Patricia Ingle (29) from Co Limerick, suffered catastrophic injuries after contracting chlamydia psittacosis - an airborne infection which can be transferred from birds to humans - while working at the Petmania store, Ennis Road, Limerick, in 2008.

As a result of the brain virus, Patricia was left in a coma and was unable to talk, walk or eat. She spent three years bravely fighting for her life as her family prepared to turn off her life-support machines.

In a wide-ranging interview with Independent.ie, Patricia and her parents reveal the difficult reality of life now, her incredible strength and positivity in the face of incredible bad luck, why they felt forced to take a record personal injuries court case and Patricia's dreams for the future.

Speaking from her home in Murroe, Co Limerick, a remarkably-upbeat Patricia said she is doing "very good" and says that her recovery is a "miracle".

"I'm very good. I'm very comfortable and everyone around me in this room is very happy I'm here," she told Independent.ie.

Strapped into her wheelchair, Patricia uses all her strength to talk, a basic skill she had to re-learn in years of therapy.

As she struggles to talk and use her arms, Patricia happily and confidently says she "blames no-one" for contracting the disease from the parrot.

Chlamydia psittacosis is an extremely rare disease, passed on from birds to people. Since 2010, fewer than 10 confirmed cases are reported in the United States each year. It is so rare that Irish figures are not widely available.

"Animals don't frighten me. I'm going to have a house full of animals. I was just trying to take care of animals when it happened.

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Patricia Ingle Photo: Fergal Phillips

"I'm just always positive. I love animals. I did before and I still do. I've nothing to be really angry about. I know I can't eat or walk. I don't blame the animals in question. They didn't know. I didn't know. I have no hatred. I don't want it to tear me up inside. It's behind us now.

"I was never an angry person."

A sadness passes over her as she recalls her plans the week she became ill. She says she "forever feels 19" as her life was put on hold when she fell ill.

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Patricia Ingle and her sister Kiera just days before Patricia contracted the virus

"I had my driving test the following week and I had planned a trip to Florida. But all that was forgotten about. I feel like I will be forever 19."

Patricia's parents, Annette and Pat Ingle look down in silence at their sitting room floor as they shudder to remember the hours, days and years that they spent by their daughter's bedside.

For a long time, the doting parents weren't sure if their youngest daughter was going to live.

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Patricia Ingle with her parents Annette and Patrick at home. Photo: Fergal Phillips

"She was just lying there in bed for years. It was devastating," Annette told Independent.ie.

When Patricia was very ill in hospital in 2008, she said she got a visit from her grandfather, who she forgot had died the year previously.

"My father died in 2007 and Patricia was very sick almost a year to the day in 2008. On his first anniversary, Patricia woke up and said 'where is granda?'. This is when she was coming back to herself. She had forgotten completely that her granddad had died. We had to tell her again.

"It dawned on me that it was his first anniversary and she had just said that my father had come to her and said 'everything was going to be fine and that he was fine. Don't worry'. I'm very sceptical but Patricia believed he was there in the room because she thought he was still alive. It comforts me to know that he was looking out for her."

Since leaving the hospital, dad Pat said that their lives have changed "completely and utterly".

"Before Patricia became ill we were working away. Then everything completely changed. We changed our house, we changed our car.

"We're constantly with Tricia now and we've no problem with that. It was the decision we made and wanted."

The family surround themselves in positivity and keep each other going. If one family member dwells on the many challenges they have faced, they are quick to pick each other back up again, and remind each other of how far they have come.

Despite the numerous challenges, the family remain remarkably positive.

"It was ok though," Annette said.

"We were going to do it anyway for her regardless. She was our child and we weren't going to carry on with what we were doing. Myself and Pat would have gone to Liverpool lots during the year and that all stopped but we didn't blame Tricia for any of that.

"When you're told that your child might die and they say to you 'ok we're going to switch the machine off and we don't know what she will be like'. As long as she wakes up, we didn't care. We said we would take Tricia whatever way she wakes up.

"She has worked so hard herself to get to where she is now. We're so proud of her and we try to forget those three years in the hospital. We lived in the hospital with her. We cried leaving the hospital every night leaving her there."

"When Tricia did become ill that time, she was so sick. We were so happy to have her back that whatever the changes were, we didn't mind. We were just happy to have her back. She came very close," added Pat.

Since leaving hospital, Patricia has completed a number of awe-inspiring achievements.

She has written a best-selling book called 'I am Free' as she is now "free" from her hospital bed and "can live her life".

"I'm talking a lot more, I'm doing lectures at the University of Limerick to teach speech therapy students. They can't read my experience from a book.

"I want to be able to walk and talk better every day. I have come a long way."

Patricia now loves to cook and bake, despite not being able to eat herself. Her illness left her unable to swallow and she is fed through a tube.

"My favourite thing to cook is pizza. I loved pizza before I got sick. Now I enjoy cooking. I'm over not being able to eat. I'm used to it. I know I can't eat them and it doesn't upset me anymore. For now I just accept it."

Patricia also loves making YouTube shows with her sisters Melissa (35) and Kiera (32) and watching the Big Bang Theory.

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Patricia with her sisters Melissa and Kiera

While fighting for her life in her hospital bed, Patricia said she kept her sense of humour and played "cruel tricks" on her parents.

"I was very cruel. When I first woke up from the coma, there was people all around my bed. I had to name who they were. I said everyone around the room and then when it came to my mum I didn't know who she was. I didn't know my mam. My mam was devastated. She went out of the room crying and it was cruel but funny. My sense of humour was still there. My dad straight away knew what I was doing so he ran out after my mam and told her I was only messing. It was funny.

"When I woke up, the first thing I wanted to do was play tricks. I wanted them to know that it was still me and that I still had my sense of humour."

Patricia is full of hope for the future as she plans to build her own home and continue with her rehabilitation programmes.

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Patricia Ingle in her bedroom Photo: Fergal Phillips

However, the family reflect on one of the biggest challenges they faced during Patricia's illness as they hope to help other families.

After Patrica woke up, the family began a long battle to get her home. They changed their house to make it wheelchair accessible, hired private nurses and fought tooth and nail with doctors to get her home.

"It took us a long term to learn it all. We learned how vulnerable Patricia was but we had to take a chance and try to bring her home. If you don't take a chance in life, you're never going to do anything. So we took a chance and brought her home," said mum Annette.

"If we followed every rule, Tricia would still be in hospital to this day.

"She was so sad, in a room on her own, we had to get her back home."

Six years ago, Patricia secured a structured settlement- believed to be about €7.5million - which at the time was the highest ever in a High Court personal injuries action. Since then, the court re-assessed the situation every two years and granted Patricia more compensation to fit in line with her progress.

The Ingle family said that it wasn't an easy decision for them to take legal action but only did so in an attempt to get Patricia home.

"We never even thought about taking legal action until somebody mentioned it to us. We wanted to know exactly what happened to our daughter," said Annette.

Pat said that his breaking point came when he heard that nurses and doctors in the hospital had been making calls to nursing homes to see if they could take Patricia.

"We couldn't believe it. It was the breaking point. We had to do something to get out of that situation but we didn't have the resources. We didn't want everyone having to talk to solicitors but we had to do something.

"We went to court and they looked into everything. I thought many times that it wasn't worth it. At that time we were trying to get Patricia home and we were told that there's no medial reason why she should be in hospital. She was on the ventilator and she was very vulnerable but there was no reason other than that."

The family moved house and were eventually able to bring Patricia home, with the help of the funds they secured from the High Court action.

The funds are now being used to find Patricia a suitable home for life, as well as paying for her full-time nurses, carers and rehabilitation.

"It was very hard, but it was worth it. Now Patricia will get everything she deserves."

Read more tomorrow, where Independent.ie reveals Patricia's big dreams for the future

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