Robert and Ann Brown tell Margaret Roddy how their son was brought back to life after a horrific car crash and how they are raising funds so others can have the same chance
February 12th 2016 is a date etched in the minds of Omeath couple Robert and Ann Brown. It was that day their youngest son Daniel was involved in a horrific car crash which left him fighting for his life.
It's every parent's worst nightmare and Ann recalls that: 'It was just like every other day and Daniel was going to work in the Four Seasons Hotel in Carlingford that evening.'
The twenty year old engineering student, who had recently returned from a holiday in Amsterdam, got a lift from his home in Drummullagh.
Disaster struck when the car in which they were travelling spun out of control on a narrow country road and Daniel was catapulted out the back window.
Among the first on the scene were local nurse Susan Jones and Fr Brian McCreesh. Susan, a family friend who works in Newry's Daisy Hill Hospital, rushed to the crashed car to attend the two people still in it. She then discovered Daniel on the roadside, in a critical condition.
The first of the emergency services on the scene was the fire brigade, and Susan used their first aid kit to attend to Daniel while awaiting the arrival of an ambulance.
'It took the ambulance 50 to 60 minutes to arrive and if it wasn't for Susan's presence, Daniel would have been dead,' says Robert.
Living as they do in a small rural community, news soon reached Robert and Ann that Daniel had been involved in a road accident.
Robert was there when the HSE ambulance arrived and accompanied his son in the ambulance when it was decided to bring him across the border to Daisy Hill Hospital as it was feared he mightn't survive the journey to Drogheda or Dublin.
After an anxious wait when the emergency team worked to stabalise Daniel, Robert and Ann were told that their son was critically ill and his only chance of survival was for him to be transferred to Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital.
There, they learned that Daniel, who had been placed in a medically induced coma, had catastrophic head and chest injuries. It emerged that one of his lungs had been punctured and the other had collapsed. His brain was also swollen and surgery was carried out on his skull to relieve this swelling.
'Over the next few days, we stood fixated on the monitors, watching the doctors doing what they could to save him,' recalls Robert.
As the family maintained a vigil around Daniel's bed, back home in Omeath, the community was praying for their son's recovery, and Robert firmly believes that those prayers played a part in their son's recovery.
A prayer vigil was organised in the local church. 'The chapel was filled to capacity and there were more people standing outside,' says Robert. 'We were given so many relics from people to place beside Daniel, and we got so many prayers and phone calls from people hoping for his recovery.'
However, as Daniel's condition deteriorated, consultants warned his parents that there was little more that they could do for him.
'They said it was in the hands of God and would be dictated by Daniel himself as to whether he would survived,' continues Robert.
The Brown's learned that there was one option which might save their son - Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO), normally used in the treatment of premature babies or patients with lung failure due to illnesses like Swine Flu. However, the situation was complicated owing to Daniel's severe head injuries as he needed to be treated in a hospital with neurological services on site.
His parents were devastated to learn that he had lost out on the opportunity of being transferred to a London hospital after his situation deteriorated and another patient got the bed.
'I left the Royal and went to St Gerard's Monastary at Clonard and prayed for Daniel and for the doctors to make whatever decision they needed to take,' remembers Robert. 'When I got back to the hospital, I met Ann and the consultants and they said Daniel was going to be transferred to Glenfield Hospital in Leicester which has ECMO facilties.'
The following day, twelve days after the accident, Daniel was airlifted to Leicester while Robert, Ann and their two other sons waited to be told that they could travel over to the hospital.
'We later learned that the team there didn't think Daniel would make it,' says Ann.
Ten days after Daniel had been placed on the ECMO machine, the process started to see if he could began breathing on his own again, and two days later, his family could see 'a glimmer that he was starting to come out of the coma,' recalls Ann.
At that stage, they still didn't know if he had permanent brain damage. 'We said, not matter what the outcome, we will deal with it,' says Robert. 'Thank God, on day twelve, he started to come out of the coma and over the next few days we realised he was coming back to us.'
Eventually, Daniel was able to go off the ECMO machine and build up his lungs so that he was breathing completely on his own. He was flown back to the Royal Victoria in Belfast, and this time his parents were allowed to accompany him in the private plane.
He returned to the hospital's Intensive Care Unit, and was still heavily sedated and not able to recognise anyone. After three weeks, he was moved to a bigger ward and place in a rehabilitation programme, and later transferred to Musgrave Park Hospital, for rehabilitation.
'He was like a baby - he had to learn everything, how to eat, walk, talk, write, everything,' recalls Robert.
On May 5th 2016, almost three months after the accident, Daniel walked up the chapel in Omeath for a thanksgiving prayer night with his parents.
'He had lost three stone in weight, but he was there and he had survived,' says Ann.
'The chapel was again filled to capacity,' recounts Robert, who addressed the congregation and thanked them for their prayers, assistance and support.
As their son continued to recover, Robert and Ann decided that they would dedicate themselves to raising funds for all the hospitals which had treated their son, the Head Injury Support Group in Newry, and also for the Mater Hospital in Dublin.
Last November, they returned to Leicester with Daniel for a review. 'They expected Daniel to come through the doors on a wheelchair or to be severely handicapped,' says Robert. 'They were amazed when he walked in with us.'
'The hospital took a chance and saved Daniel's life,' says Ann. 'We want joined up services here so that other patients can be saved without having to hope that a bed becomes available in England.'
They would like to see a linking of services in Ireland so that patients like their son, who have from head injuries as well as severe chest injuries, would be able to avail of the ECMO machine in The Mater Hospital. However, at the moment patients such as Daniel have to travel abroad as the country's national centre for neurosurgery is at Beaumont Hospital which doesn't have an ECMO machine.
'Daniel got a second chance of life and we want others to have the same chance,' says Robert.
Their son celebrated his 21st birthday in August and is hoping to get an apprenticeship.
'His friends are so good, they are fantastic, as are all the people in Omeath.'
Ann remarks that the nurse who helped save Daniel's life when she came upon the accident scene, has named her son Daniel and asked him to be Godfather to her child. 'He is so proud of him,' she says.
The couple have set up Daniel's Hosptial Fund and have already organised a number of fund-raising events.
The next one is a Guest Tea in the Granvue House Hotel, Omeath on Friday November 24th, and then there's a ceili in O'Connell's GAA Club, Castlebellingham on January 6th, with the Grand Finale planned for the Four Seasons Hotel, Carlingford on February 2nd.
They have been overwhelmed by the generosity of people to date and anyone who wants to support their appeal can do so by making a donation to Daniel's Hospital Fund c/o Omeath Post Office.