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Saturday 18 August 2018

'It was my legs or my life' - Dublin woman speaks out about deadly blaze that saw her trade three limbs for her life

Seonaid O’Murchadha Photo: Screengrab RTE
Seonaid O’Murchadha Photo: Screengrab RTE

Rebecca Lumley

A Dublin woman has spoken out about surviving a deadly house fire, which saw her mother make the decision between her “legs or her life”.

Seonaid O’Murchadha lost two legs and an arm when a blaze broke out in her home almost 20 years ago, as she slept after her third Leaving Cert exam.

Speaking to Ryan Tubridy on last night’s Late late Show, she recalled running upstairs once she returned home to have a nap, before studying for the evening.

It was just Ms O’Murchadha and her brother in the house when a fire broke out in the room beside her bedroom, caused by a small tealight candle.

She recounted: “I woke up to the sound of the smoke alarm and also my brother screaming. I knew from the sound of his voice that he wasn’t just calling me to get up.

“I could also hear this strange crackling noise as well from the room next door and I opened the door and saw all these flames coming out of his room, blocking my access out of the room.

“I just didn’t know what to do.”

Ms O’Murchadha said she was not initially worried about how to get out of her room, but was instead concerned that the notes for her exams would be burnt.

“Everything was coming at me so fast and I was only 18, so obviously I was sure that nothing was actually going to happen to me. Because I had my Leaving Cert to do, you know, I had stuff to do. I didn’t have time for this. I just kind of thought that the house would be damaged or my notes would go up in flames.

“I didn’t really worry about getting out of the room because my mum’s house was so close to the fire station on Kilbarrack road, so I was sure that they’d just come and get me.”

With the smoke thickening, Ms O’Murchadha could not leave through her bedroom door and instead attempted to break a window to escape.

“There was one big pane and three small panes, so I was lifting the chair and throwing it at the window, but there was a vacuum between the air outside and the air inside.

“I couldn’t get out. So I probably lost consciousness there.”

She said she owed her life to a young firefighter, Vincent Daly, who climbed into the room and discovered her on the floor.

“He broke the window, jumped down and kind of shuffled around searching with his feet. 

"And that was the only reason he actually found me, because the smoke was so thick that he wouldn’t have found me otherwise.”

Mr Daly carried her downstairs and outside, where she was revived on the lawn.

“My heart wasn’t beating, I wasn’t breathing, so I was revived on the front lawn in front of my brother screaming. My mum got the call to say that both of her children had been injured in a fire and the police were coming to get her and bring her to the hospital.”

Ms O’Murchadha was placed in an induced coma for three weeks while she recovered from intensive burns.

Her mother was told that if her limbs were not amputated, she would likely not make it.

“My mum had to make the very difficult decision to allow the amputations to happen, obviously.

“When the choice is your legs or your life, you’re hardly going to choose your legs.”

Ms O’ Murchadha found the consequences of the triple amputation difficult to accept initially, as she was told that going to college and living independently would no longer be options for her.

“So that was what I was coping with, that I had so many opportunities at my feet- but I no longer had any feet and definitely no opportunities. And that was really what was most difficult for me.

“After being a star student and knowing I was going to do really well and go to college and get a job that was going to change the world, to not be able to do that anymore, I just kind of said ‘Really? Watch me.  I’m going to do it’.”

Ms O'Murchadha attended Dublin City University, but faced further hurdles when she graduated and could not get a job. She told Tubridy that because she had not been able to accrue any work experience, she was being overlooked as her classmates were hired.

Determined to expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities, she recently began work with the Employer Disability Information Service.

“I’m empowering employers to employ people exactly like me, who can make a difference in the world,” she said.

Ms O’Murchadha also previously formed the Amputee Disability Federation, which aims to empower amputees to achieve independence.

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