AN INSPIRATIONAL Irish student has said near-death experience in a Death Valley car crash was the "best thing to ever happen" to him, as it has pushed him to help others.
Padraic Rocliffe (28) was involved in a terrifying car accident in Death Valley, California in September 2016, breaking his neck, back and foot.
Padraic, who is from Westport in Co Mayo, said that it changed his perspective and he is now determined to make the most of his life and help others.
The University of Limerick student set up 'Shine A Light' last year, a volunteer organisation which collects goods like sleeping bags, warms clothes, gloves, scarves and perishable foods and donates them to people who are homeless.
The terrifying road accident happened on September 2 2016, he was returning from a weekend away in Lake Tahoe with friends and moments after they stopped to fix a burst tyre, the driver lost control of the vehicle and the car flipped.
While three passengers managed to safely jump out, Padraic and the driver did not and they endured a gruelling two hour wait for an ambulance.
He has made a remarkable recovery and can now walk unaided, he said he is grateful for the life-changing experience.
He told Independent.ie: "Being in that car crash, breaking my neck and back was the best thing that ever happened to me.
"As strange as that sounds it gave me a completely different outlook, I don't sweat the small stuff and I have a new appreciation for everything that I have.
"I want to make a difference and use my days as best I can, it's the simple things that get me and I'm still just so happy to be here.
"Unfortunately I think you need something like that to happen to you for you to realise the importance of life and how quickly it can all be taken away from you.
"We forget that a lot of people have absolutely nothing, so something like new socks or a hat can make a difference.
"We're lucky to have what we do and we need to keep that perspective, it's our duty to try to help others in any way we can."
Shine A Light's third distribution day is now planned for May 12 in Dublin. Previous campaigns in the capital and Galway were hugely successful, with more than 100 packs of necessities being given to those who need them.
Padraic said that 'Shine A Light' volunteers are often taken aback when they realise how prevalent homelessness has become in Ireland.
"I was shocked at the range of people who were homeless, I think there can be a stereotype sometimes but that really isn't the case.
"There were people who fell on hard times with ill health or family or financial difficulties or whatever.
"There were people who were just like me, it was so close to home and just showed that homelessness could happen to any one of us," he said.
Padraic has previously told Independent.ie that his faith helped him during the road crash and he feels that someone was "watching over" him.
He explained: "It sounds bizarre but God spoke to me, he told me to stay in the car, he told me to put my back up against the roof and to ask the girls to get a pillow and put it behind my head...
"I had no feeling in my left side and I was terrified to try to moved my neck but God spoke to me again - he said, 'I've never let you down before and I won't now.
"'You won't be paralysed but you will have a bad injury.' I felt an unbelievable sense of calm in that moment, I definitely had someone looking over me that day."
He hopes to eventually turn 'Shine A Light' into a registered charity, but at the moment they are getting experience running their donation and distribution initiatives.
Padraic said: "We have a really good template now for 'Shine A Light' campaigns, we may need to tweak it slightly but it's working for us.
"We're on our third campaign now, we are hoping to make 'Shine A Light' nationwide and bring it to places like Cork and Limerick but we decided this time to go back to Dublin as it seems to be the worst affected."
They cannot yet take monetary contributions but donation points for goods are located in Westport, Co Mayo, the University of Limerick and in Dublin.
He said that he is blown away by the response to his idea so far: "All I wanted to do was make a difference, once I put the idea out there it just kind of blew up and has become bigger than I could have ever dreamt of.
"I just want us to improve, keep moving in the right direction and hopefully have a positive impact on people's lives."