Tuesday 22 October 2019

#CityCycling: ‘I saw straight away what I’d done to my arm. It was severed below my elbow and it landed about 20 feet away’

Eamonn McSweeney (47) highlights the importance of wearing a helmet as he talks about his cycling accident

Geraldine Gittens

Geraldine Gittens

Eamonn McSweeney lost his arm in a cycling accident - and still he considers himself lucky.

The father of two from Churchtown, Dublin is a keen cyclist. During a training session with his local cycling club in May 2013, Eamonn was cycling downhill when his bike slipped on gravel.

“I was coming down a hill into Tallaght from Blessington. I was going around the corner and I could see that there was a quarry nearby, and I saw a slew of gravel on the road.  I lost control of the bike and I came off and I went onto the steel crash barrier on the edge of the road. I tried to land over the barrier but unfortunately the arm was pretty severed.”

“I landed on my back, I lifted my head to recalibrate to see where I was and where I landed. I went to lift both my arms to prop myself up and I saw straight away what I’d done to my arm. It was severed below my elbow. My arm landed about 20 feet away.”

While Eamonn says he was lucky he hit the barrier to break his fall, his arm could not be saved and now he wears a prosthesis.

“I asked one of the guys to go and find my arm because I was still hopeful they’d be able to reattach it in hospital, but the surgeon took a look at it and said there was too much damage.”

“I didn’t know at the time but the main artery in my arm went into spasm and sealed itself shut, which is a very rare thing to happen. I was told I was very lucky. I had to wait 25 minutes for an ambulance so I would have bled out if the artery hadn’t sealed up.”

Eamonn, a father of two children, was told later that he was lucky he wasn’t killed. Beyond the barrier which broke his fall was a steep valley.

Eamonn Mc Sweeney at his home in Dublin.
Eamonn Mc Sweeney at his home in Dublin.
Eamonn McSweeney with his wife Catherine, and children Sarah (12) and Louis (9).

“One of the guards at the scene contacted me afterwards and said if I hadn’t hit the barrier I would have landed at the bottom of a 40 or 50-foot drop as a bag of bones. Those were his words to me.”

“I didn’t have to push myself too hard in feeling that it could have been a lot worse. I could have hit that barrier in a number of ways; I could have broken my back, I could have broken my neck."

“I’m also very lucky in that I’m left handed, but it was my right arm that got severed.”

In many ways, Eamonn’s life now is no different to what it was before the accident. He has since completed a charity cycling trip from Rome to Nice.

Once he had a prosthetic arm fitted, he got back up on his bicycle.

“In one sense, not a lot has changed in my life. I’m working as before, I’m still doing the things I enjoyed as before. It’s the small little things where I’m limited that I get a bit frustrated.”

“I’m a keen cyclist still, but I’m a lot more careful. Speed was a factor in my accident but to me I was cycling within my limits. Road bikes go very fast so speed was obviously a factor for my arm to be injured. I would never have considered myself reckless.”

“I’m a lot more conscious. I don’t like busy roads; a lot of my cycling now is in Wicklow. I don’t cycle to work, I don’t cycle in town or anything like that. I’d be uncomfortable cycling in heavy traffic.”

Since the accident, Eamonn's cycling club members have all trained in first aid. Eamonn was one of three cyclists in the club to sustain injuries around that time.

“A helmet is an absolute must. My helmet saved me, it split right down the middle in the accident. The only injury I had was my arm.”

“One way or another, I was going downhill, but even if I was going a lot slower I don’t think I would have been able to spot the gravel on time. It’s very hard to see it. I was coming off that bike anyway, and how I would have impacted the barrier... I don’t know how that would have changed the outcome.”

“I would be very conscious of safety and seeing and observing the behaviour of cyclists on the road. The odd time I see guys cycling without helmets, which I do not understand, I don’t know what they’re trying to prove.”

“The bikes people cycle now are the equivalent of the bikes professionals would have been riding in the Tour de France ten years ago. People are going fast on bikes so when they’re coming off, aside from the helmet, there is no protection really. It’s just you bouncing on the ground and that’s it.”

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