Four years ago, nurse Ciara Walsh felt like her life was on track. But a devastating brain injury changed everything beyond recognition
When Ciara Walsh looks at her 10-year-old daughter, she sees the next generation staring right back at her.
“Our children are the future. That’s why it’s so heartbreaking to see that my daughter is worried about where we are going to live. That isn’t something a child should have to worry about,” explains the 41-year-old nurse. “I agree with Michael D Higgins. The housing crisis really is the scandal of our times.”
Four-and-a-half years ago, life for Ciara and her daughter changed utterly.
It was a mundane midweek morning. The community nurse was going about her working day in Ballinteer when she began to feel unwell.
“I was going to my car to drive to see a patient and I remember feeling very strange. I managed to get into the car, but my right-side wasn’t working properly.
“I managed to open the door with the key using my left hand.
“Then I tried to start the car but I fell unconscious. I found out later I had an AVM [arteriovenous malformation], which is essentially a brain haemorrhage.”
Around two hours later, one of her colleagues noticed while walking through the car park that Ciara was still in her car and hadn’t left as planned to carry out her nursing duties.
She realised there was something seriously wrong and raised the alarm, potentially saving Ciara’s life.
Ciara was rushed by ambulance to St James’ Hospital and later transferred to Beaumont, which specialises in the treatment of brain injuries.
The next few days, weeks and months went by in a blur for the single parent.
Recovery from brain injury can be a slow process and can impact a range of functions for patients, including mobility and cognitive ability.
“It affected my speech and my ability to write. I lost some movement initially on my right-hand side too.
“But in the last year in particular, I am really beginning to feel like myself again.”
Before her brain injury, Ciara had been saving for a mortgage.
Originally from Dalkey in south Dublin, she was renting an apartment in nearby Ballybrack. “Before this happened, I was saving for a deposit towards a mortgage. I was working towards becoming a Public Health Nurse too. Everything was on track, I had a plan. But then, everything just changed.”
Ciara’s medical prognosis meant she and her daughter had to move back into her parents’ house for six months in the immediate aftermath of her AVM.
Keen for her independence, she moved out when she was medically fit to do so and returned to her rented apartment in Ballybrack. Unable to return to full-time work, she had to dip into her savings to pay her rent. She realised this was financially unsustainable and began to look into what State supports she would be entitled to following her brain injury.
Her landlord had given her a year’s notice that he was selling the apartment.
Ciara applied for the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) and was eligible.
She began looking for a new home, thinking she had plenty of time, but practically all landlords she approached made it clear they would not accept HAP.
“When I said I was on HAP, the reaction was just ‘no’. There is such discrimination. There are lots of reasons people end up on HAP — mine is because of my medical injury. No-one wants to be in this situation.
“The Government needs to have an education campaign so there is more awareness about HAP,” she said.
Eventually, after a full year of searching non-stop, Ciara finally found a landlord who would accept the payment.
She and her daughter moved into a house in Dalkey and have made it their home for the past couple of years. But Ciara got news several months ago that she must move out as her landlord has plans for the property.
“What is worst for me is that my daughter is worried. People think, ‘Oh, you are from Dalkey, you must be wealthy.’ It’s complete reverse snobbery.
“There are plenty of people in Dalkey and other areas like it that are struggling.”
Ciara has recently applied for homeless HAP, meaning she might be entitled to more financial assistance to cover her rent.
“Even if I hadn’t had the AVM, I would have really struggled to save for a mortgage while renting. I would love so much to own my home for myself and my daughter. But that seems so far away. At the moment though, I would just settle for a roof over our heads.”