Monday 16 September 2019

Dessie Fitzgerald opens up about losing two brothers and suffering a life-changing injury in just 14 months

Dessie Fitzgerald
Photo: RTE
Dessie Fitzgerald Photo: RTE

Mícheál Ó Scannáil

FORMER Cork hurler Dessie Fitzgerald has spoken about how losing two of his brothers and suffering a devastating freak accident that left him confined to a wheelchair within the space of just 14 months left him feeling suicidal.

In an emotional interview Dessie talked about how he has adopted a new outlook on life and wants to help others. 

His world was turned was upside-down in August 2011, when his brother Mike died by suicide. Over the next 14 months, Dessie suffered a freak accident in a hurling match that left him confined to a wheelchair and later lost another brother in a shocking tragedy.

Speaking on The Late Late Show, Dessie recounted the losses he suffered, which began when he found Mike’s body on a local farm.

“I remember that day so clearly,” he said

“I was driving home excited for seeing my family and I saw my brother’s van parked at a farm entrance. I rang his phone and there was no answer, so I rang him again. Still no answer so I went back to see how he was getting on.

“I walked into the farm and my brother Mike had taken his own life. Mike was 23 and a really happy-go-lucky guy. He had a brilliant time over in America, always interested in sport, had a great group of friends. We were in shock.”

Two months after Mike’s death, Dessie was playing in a county semi-final for his club Charleville. After diving to prevent an opposition goal, Dessie found himself unable to move on the pitch. He would later find out that he had suffered significant injuries to his neck and spinal cord.

“I got sandwiched between two players and the knees I got into the chest from one player caused my head to spring back and forward,” he said.

“I was in a daze for a couple of seconds. I came out of the daze and I realised that I couldn’t feel or move anything from the shoulders down. What went into my head straight away was ‘this can’t be happening. This cannot be happening’.

“Mike came into my head straight away. I thought, ‘I must be dreaming,’ but I wasn’t. I wanted to scream. I wanted to freak out. I was filled with anxiety. I actually thought my heart was going to explode, it was just so scary.”

Nurses at the match stabilised Dessie and he suffered an incomplete injury, which gave him a chance at some form of recovery. He was due to be marry his fiancee Sarah six months after the match and thanks to a positive rehabilitation, he was able to stand at the alter with support from his brothers.

Having returned home from the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire, Dessie struggled to adjust to life in a wheelchair.

“I struggled coming home,” he said.

“I couldn’t get my head around going from being a fully fit able-bodied man to now being in a wheelchair. I had Sarah giving me a hand to get washed and dressed, I had a carer coming into the house or my parents or Conor and James giving me support.

”I struggled with it and I went downhill. I was extremely angry. I hated myself, I hated my life, I suffered from depression. It was an extremely, extremely difficult time.”

Then just 14 months after his brother Mike’s death, and a year after his own accident, Dessie’s 16 year-old brother James died in tragic circumstances.

“Myself and Sarah were having lunch and I got a phone call from one of my great friends Ben and he just said to me, ‘your brother James is after collapsing’,” he recalled.

 “We travelled up to the hospital afterwards and we were told that James had died of sudden adult death syndrome. He was 16. If I was lost beforehand you can imagine what I was like now. Words can’t describe how low I was, how I felt.

“I looked at Sarah at one point and I genuinely thought, ‘there’s no way I’m ever going to be able to cope with all this’. I was thinking, ‘that’s it for me, I’m done, I’m done with my life, I have enough trauma dealt with now and I can’t cope with this’.”

The Charleville man had reached rock bottom and knew that he had to take action if he was going to recover from his losses. After attending a three-day mental health workshop, Dessie’s physical condition also began to improve.

“I got so low that I knew I had a decision to make. I could be so angry and low and bitter and I could blame someone, the world, God, I don’t know, and probably drive myself to an early grave. I made a conscious decision with my brother Conor one day. I was like ‘I have to do something here.’

“I just opened up (at the workshop) and I spent about three days crying, roaring, screaming. I had to do something to open a door to all of the stuff I was bottling up, open a door to all of the losses that I had been thorough.

“The impact that had on me, the release after that weekend was something phenomenal. I released all of the energy I was holding onto. As I released all of the emotions that I was holding on to I felt so much energy and my physical energy followed suit.”

Dessie is now able to walk using crutches and has devoted himself to helping others. After studying counselling, he then received a Master’s degree in Life Coaching from UCC.

Now married to Sarah, Dessie has two children, MJ (4) - who is named after his uncles Mike and James - and Jack (1).

Dessie says he has now lives under the mantra, “how would we know what it is to be happy if we haven’t been sad.”

He added: “We underestimate ourselves.

“If someone would have said to me I'd have to go through all this, I'd have said there's no way I'd cope. But I have.”

  • If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article please contact Samaritans helpline 116 123 or Aware helpline 1800 80 48 48 or Pieta House on 1800 247 247.

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