Two years after an Irish student lapsed into a coma following a cycling accident in the US, his family hope to bring him home to Ireland.
Dubliner Padraig Schaler was cycling his bike in the American town of Brewster, Massachusetts, when he was hit by a van on June 27, 2013.
Padraig, then 23, was living in the Cape Cod area for the summer with friends on a J1 visa when the incident happened.
He was transferred to Beaumont Hospital in Dublin where he spent three and a half months in a high dependency ward.
His family then decided to move him to an intensive neuro-lab in Germany since they feared the one-year waiting list for the National Rehabilitation Hospital (NHR) in Dun Laoghaire would result in lost time for Padraig.
Today, his father Reinhard, a lecturer in the University of Limerick, said the family hope to bring him home this autumn.
Work will begin on a wheelchair-adapted extension to their Dublin home on June 2.
“We’re about to start building an extension; the house is old and full of stairs. We’re adding a bedroom and bathroom for Padraig downstairs beside the kitchen so that he can navigate his way around in the wheelchair,” Reinhard told independent.ie.
“We want to bring him back because we have been away for such a long time. We know he’s getting better and he’s more aware of everything around him, and we know it’s important that he’s close to the people he knows.”
Padraig’s friends have been fundraising for the extension. Marcus Mac Conghail & IMLÉ have put together a song called 'Pádraig', which you can purchase on www.imle.bandcamp.com. All the money will go towards Caring for Pádraig.
“We hope being back in Ireland will give him a big motivational kick to improve; it must be very, very hard that he’s so far away from home.”
“He’s improving. If you saw him now and didn’t know how he was after the accident, you’d probably think that he’s not in a very good place, but if you compare it to two years ago after the accident, we were talking about organ donation; doctors did not think he would survive.”
In January, Padraig moved into an apartment where he has 24-hour care. This summer, the next milestone will begin.
“We hope over the summer months that we’ll finish the extension and we’ll bring Padraig home in the autumn if all goes according to plan, hopefully in September.”
“We are aware that there are a lot of variables that we can’t control. He’s stable physically but there’s still a possibility that something could happen for him that he’d require treatment.”
Thanks to the donation of a friend, the family now have a wheelchair-adpated car in Germany which means that Padraig can join in on family trips.
“Hospitals are not good places to stay long term. Leaving hospital was a huge, huge help and it was made much easier by the great help you get in Germany. Padraig has 24-hour care in the apartment, it helps you to be at home while you’re very sick.”
“When we come back to Ireland, all the things he gets in the German system he won’t get in the Irish system. The fundraising will finance the therapy sessions he’ll need.”
Reinhard is campaigning for better services for people with severe brain injuries in Ireland.
“We felt when Padraig’s accident happened, this was the first time that we really needed help from the State and it just wasn’t there. It was really, really hard to take that.”
“There are three beds for people with severe brain injury in the NRH in Dun Laoghaire in this country. When you have a brain injury, what you need is immediate therapy. Padraig would have had to wait one year to get one of those beds in Dun Laoghaire.”
“We were luckier than others because we were able to take him to Germany. Padraig is Irish and also has German passport and that is why we were able to bring him over... Padraig emigrated basically. He had to leave, not because he couldn’t get a job, but because the health system wasn’t in any shape to help him. As parents, you really have to step in,” he said.