Sunday 9 December 2018

Left in limbo after a freak gym accident

Sorcha Crowley relates sad plight

Andrew (2nd left) with his mother (left) and aunts on Clare Island before his accident
Andrew (2nd left) with his mother (left) and aunts on Clare Island before his accident

The sister of quadriplegic Andrew O'Malley has vowed to keep pressurising the HSE to provide a suitable home for her brother.

Emma McCabe spoke to The Sligo Champion to shine a spotlight on what she sees as the HSE denying him his human rights.

He is living in limbo in the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire, officially "discharged" since 30th of September except he isn't.

He has nowhere to go to get the care he needs.

Roll back to 1st December 2016. The Mohill, Co Leitrim native had been living in Sligo for a number of years and a regular gym user.

Young (31), fit and happy, Andrew was due to start a course in Tourism and Hospitality the following week.

His world came crashing down around him when he got hurt, a day the whole family will never forget.

"My Mum rang me and told me that Andrew had hurt his back," recalled Emma.

"I was heavily pregnant at the time so Mum was only trying to tell me what she had to," she said.

The seriousness of Andrew's injury quickly became apparent to medics at Sligo University Hospital and he was transferred to the Mater Hospital in Dublin.

His family were called in.

"We were brought into the family room and told Andrew had a C3 injury - a complete spinal cord injury," said Emma.

She, her oldest brother Sean and their parents were told Andrew would never regain any movement from the neck down.

"It was unbelievable," she said, describing their collective shock at the news.

He can move his head and neck and has some slight shoulder movement and thankfully, can still speak.

"There was a stage when we thought he wouldn't be able to speak but thank God he can. He has his wits about him. He is the same Andrew," said Emma.

The gym owner allegedly had no insurance and closed "very soon after his accident" according to Emma with the owner leaving the country.

The family sought legal advice to look into getting Andrew any form of compensation but because the person in question has no longer any assets in the country, he cannot be pursued.

"We were told initially that someone would take responsibility but there's nothing we can do. He has no form of compensation," said Emma.

After six months in the Mater, Andrew was moved to the National Rehabilitation Hospital in June 2017.

He was given six hours of physio a week and slowly recovered.

A discharge date of 30th September was set, and came, and went without Andrew leaving the hospital. The family are waiting on the HSE to make a decision as to where Andrew can go next.His family claim there are no facilities in Ireland which cater for young people with Andrew's medical problems.

"Throughout this whole ordeal Andrew has remained remarkably strong. His mental strength and positive outlook have been inspirational. His physiotherapy sessions have been instrumental in maintaining this positive outlook," says the family on his GoFundMe page.

However once the date for his discharge had passed, Andrew was deemed to be 'technically' discharged from the NRH which resulted in his physio being cut from six hours a week to one and a half hours a week.

"This is criminal," said Emma.

"He has stayed mentally strong all along. He's still positive about life. But I worry about how he's going to stay positive for much longer if his physio isn't increased significantly," she told this newspaper.

In the short-term, he needs some form of step-down care and would eventually love to live in some form of an assisted living situation long -term. However, he is a long way away from that.

Due to his injury, Andrew now has very weak lungs and often struggles to catch his breath. He is susceptible to chest infections and needs regular intervention by medical staff to clear his airways. He has a tracheotomy for when these emergencies occur.

Andrew also has autonomic dysreflexia - this develops in individuals with spinal cord injury, resulting in acute, uncontrolled high blood pressure. This is a life threatening condition and as a result, Andrew must be constantly and closely monitored.

Andrew has a very weak swallow reflex. Additionally, his windpipe does not always close when he swallows. Because of this, there is the potential that Andrew could choke on food or even his own saliva.

Emma and the family don't know where to turn to next to ensure Andrew has the care he needs.

"We don't even know what's available to him. A nursing home is the first step for him anyway, then a more independent setting," she said.

"We have applied to every nursing home in the country. All of them said they couldn't cope with his level of needs. They couldn't take him," she said.

"If no one is taking him, what's going to happen him?" she said.

Andrew's family have been told that it is the first hospital people are admitted to which bears the ultimate responsibility for a patient's care.

This means, in Andrew's case, Sligo University Hospital.

The one thing the HSE did propose to the family, was sending Andrew back into acute care in Sligo, something they are not happy about.

"They are proposing Andrew be returned to ICU at Sligo for the rest of his life," said Emma, "An option we are absolutely not going for," she added.

"If I have to life down in front of an ambulance he is not going to Sligo," she said.

Emma visits Andrew in the NRH regularly as she works in Dublin and lives in Meath.

His parents have also moved from Mohill to Meath. His family would therefore like to see Andrew living on the East coast so they can be close to him.

"Ideally we'd like to see him being cared for in Dublin, for practicality. He could get the Dart without relying on expensive taxis," she said.

Emma has taken the matter into her own hands since the HSE has left Andrew in limbo for the past six months.

RTE Primetime covered his case last week and Emma is doing everything she can to raise awareness and try to get answers from the HSE.

She has set up a GoFundMe online campaign which has a target of ¤1million. So far they've raised over ¤21,000.

Money raised will go towards his medical bills, physiotherapy and safeguarding his future.

The Sligo Champion contacted the HSE about Andrew's case and received the following response from a spokesperson:

"I can confirm that a referral was received from the NRH for a residential service for Mr. O'Malley. To date the application for Fair Deal Nursing Home funding has been approved, however, due to his considerable care needs the only service locations available to accept him requires a nursing home 'top up' payment.

"The business case has been completed which identifies two service options which are being considered.

"In addition Mr OMalley requires a motorised wheelchair. The NRH have recently provided the specifications for the chair and the HSE is currently progressing the purchase of same," they concluded.

Follow Andrew on social media:

To donate directly to Help Andrew O'Malley: Bank of Ireland

IBAN: IE73 BOFI 9035 2578 8757 55


If you have any fundraising ideas or would like to organise your own fundraising event, please contact Emma McCabe above.

Sligo Champion