Thursday 19 April 2018

'I ran screaming towards the guys yelling ‘what did you do to me?’' - teen on how firework nearly killed him

Jamie O'Toole from Dublin was 16 years old when he was hit by a firework in his leg. He's still having surgeries on his leg three years later, and doctors have told him that he's lucky to be alive.

Jamie O Toole who was injured by a firework three years ago. Photo: Frank Mc Grath
Jamie O Toole who was injured by a firework three years ago. Photo: Frank Mc Grath

‘Halloween is a real no-no for me now. For the last two years, my family have just gone out for dinner — it’s the easiest thing to do.

“I hate the sound of fireworks. If I’m in bed and even when I hear a few bangs outside, the sound of it sends me under the covers. I hate the sound of them, I just hate them.

“Three years ago, it was different. It was Halloween night 2014 and I was 16 and out messing around with my mates on a golf course near where I live in Hollystown in the Dublin suburbs.

“We thought fireworks were fun and we were playing around with them, just the small ones, firing them at each other. Then one guy decided to light a big one. I wasn’t really interested and I guess I knew something was going to happen, fireworks were flying left, right and centre, so me and two other friends were walking away when I heard my name being called.

“I turned round and this rocket was flying straight at me. The firework had been lit on the grass on a bit of a hill and I think they thought it would go up in the air, but it didn’t. All I could do was stare at it, frozen on the spot and then it hit me and exploded.

“I don’t really remember everything that happened next. The firework hit me at the top of my leg and when I looked down I was on fire.

“I ran screaming towards the group of guys yelling ‘what did you do to me?’ then I dropped to the ground to roll around and try and put the flames out.

“I could feel my trousers were stuck to me so I pulled them off and saw blood everywhere.

“I knew then that I was in trouble. My friends had been laughing a bit, thinking I was faking it but when they saw the blood they just froze. The run home to my house took me 10 minutes. I jumped over streams and a high fence on pure adrenaline with my younger brother trying to keep up with me.

“At home, my youngest brother, who was eight at the time, was having friends over for his first Halloween party. My Mam came to the door and just started screaming when she saw me.

“I was in St James Hospital for six or seven weeks. The first operation I had was to try and get all the exploded fireworks out of my body — it was like removing shrapnel — and it took nine hours, but they still couldn’t get everything out so had to do a second one.

“Time stands still in hospital. I woke up after a couple of days but it felt like weeks. My family organised a schedule to come in and see me. Every day I had to have an injection — something I hated because needles terrify me.

“I had to learn to walk again and felt like a baby doing it. It was one of those simple things that you just take for granted, but all of a sudden I was having to learn again and it wasn’t easy. I did physiotherapy for months but I liked my physiotherapist and we’d have talks and play table tennis.

“The doctors and nurses were incredible. Some of the nurses mammied me because I was the youngest and some were really strict, but the strict ones got me through as well. 

“The doctors told me I had third degree burns. I didn’t ask for any more information, I didn’t want to know. I didn’t look at my legs, I just let the doctors poke around down there, I didn’t want to see what they were looking at because I didn’t know how I would react if I did.

“Now, it’s weird, but I don’t really remember what my normal legs looked like. They’re both scarred now. I’m still continuing treatment and I’ve more lotions in my cupboard than my Mam has! When the rocket hit, I lost a bit of my muscle tissue and that’s not coming back, so they had to cover that up and the last operation, which I had just recently, was to do with trying to get the shape of the leg back. I’ve asked my doctor if there’s anything else they can do that would make me feel a little bit normal again and there are a few procedures so maybe next year, or the year after that.

“I’ve never felt angry about what happened. It happened and I can’t do anything about it.

“I worried at first that, at school, people would be looking at me and I’d be ‘the guy that got hit with the firework’ but everyone was ok and actually I’ve no problem talking about what happened.

“Some people don’t understand it but I’ve never had a grudge against the guy that lit the rocket either. In fact, he’s still one of my good friends and his family have been really good to me.

“It was a complete fluke accident and it happened and I can’t do anything about it.

“But I’d like to say to any other 16 year olds who are thinking about messing around with fireworks this Halloween — don’t treat them as toys, they’re not toys. They can cause serious damage and could kill someone.

“The night I was hit, I was wearing a big, thick ski jacket and my phone was in my right pocket, just above where the rocket hit.

“My parents brought me that damaged phone in when I was in hospital and it was completely bent in half.

“I remember looking at it, thinking ‘that could have been my leg’. I threw it away, I didn’t want that thing anywhere near me. I don’t need a reminder.

“My doctor, Dr Odhran Shelley, consultant plastic and reconstructive surgeon at St James’s, told me if the rocket had gone any higher, I would have been dead and any lower, I would have lost my leg because it would have hit my knee.

“Even a millimetre to the left and I could have lost a very vital organ! I dodged death and I guess I feel pretty lucky to have got away as lightly as I did. But I’ll never be around fireworks again.”

In conversation with Chrissie Russell

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