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Miracle recovery: Sligoman beats the odds after freak fall from Melbourne roof


Treatment get under way in the Intensive Care Unit.

Treatment get under way in the Intensive Care Unit.

Treatment get under way in the Intensive Care Unit.

Last June, Sligoman Declan Foley, now living in Berwick, Melbourne, Australia, had a miraculous escape from death when he fell from a roof in a freak accident after a beam collapsed. Had he accepted the standard para-medical practice as he was rushed to hospital, he could have been paralysed for life. Instead, he refused to lie flat and insisted on remaining in an upright posit

Last June, Sligoman Declan Foley, now living in Berwick, Melbourne, Australia, had a miraculous escape from death when he fell from a roof in a freak accident after a beam collapsed. Had he accepted the standard para-medical practice as he was rushed to hospital, he could have been paralysed for life. Instead, he refused to lie flat and insisted on remaining in an upright position in the ambulance. In hospital, an orthopaedic specialist remarked: ‘One more click in your neck and your were dead.’ He had sustained a badly broken neck, several skull fractures and a displacement of the brain. What followed was an amazing battle to beat the odds, and today, he has fully recovered to tell his amazing story.

On Saturday June 12, 2004 I went to friend’s house to affix three sheets of laserlite to a pergola. All was going well when I started to descend the ladder to get another piece of wood without warning a beam collapsed beneath me and I fell three metres to the ground.

It happened so quickly I was relaxed when my head hit the concrete. My head bounced off the concrete a number of times and I tried to protect it with my arms. The next I knew was a state of suspended animation, and in my inner conscious I thought I was going to die.

The relaxed feeling at that moment was one of peacefulness, no pain and then a few seconds later a heightened awareness of blood trickling down my throat and my friend who had been holding the ladder from behind, in a state of shock calling my name. I told him to put me on my side to prevent the blood from choking me. I checked my toes, fingers, legs and arms for movement. All limbs appeared to be fine with no loss of movement, tingling or broken bones. My head and face were very sore, so I assumed a fractured skull at least by the whack I both felt and heard.

Amulance arrived

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I then did what I should not have done, I asked Joseph to put his arms under mine and put me sitting against the wall, and he did. I felt sure I had not suffered any life threatening injury.

The ambulance arrived within ten minutes; the crew checked me over and placed a medical collar around my neck as a precaution. I walked to the stretcher which was a few paces from where I was sitting. As I sat on the stretcher the pain became more forceful. When the stretcher was put into the ambulance I was in a semi-upright position. As the ambulance office began to lower the backrest I heard and felt a clicking in the back of my neck and a surge of pain up the right side of my head. I shouted at him to stop and to get the stretcher back up. His response: "We are not allowed to take a patient in to emergency sitting up." I told him very "forcefully" that I didn’t care what he was told to do and to wind the stretcher back up; which he did. On telling the orthopedic surgeon of this, when I first was allowed talk nineteen days after the event, he said, "That was when you saved your own life, one more click and you were dead!"

Given morphine

On the way to hospital I was given morphine intravenously, conversing the entire journey I was alert but drowsy as I was taken into emergency where a medical team awaited my arrival. At this stage I forgot about the incident in the ambulance. Helen came in and I knew by her voice she was nervous and upset at the sight of my face, swollen and black, yellow and blue from bruising.

All I could think of was that I had organized a reading of Joyce’s Ulysses for Bloomsday the following Wednesday and asked her to contact my colleagues involved. I was then whisked into the X-Ray Department next door.

Whilst I was in X-Ray a doctor told Helen and our children Sarah and Gerald that I did not have any broken bones and did not appear to have suffered any serious injury. To be certain they were doing a full MRI scan as well as X-Rays of my head. When the scan showed a broken neck, entire face and nose broken, and several skull fractures and a displacement of the brain from the skull at the base the E.R Director Dr Danny Bin Ali approached me and said, "Mr. Foley we have the results of your X-Rays and scans and I have to tell you that you have a badly broken neck, in fact it is hanging by a thread!"

His voice was professional and reassuring while at the same time I detected a great touch of humanity in the man, which I discovered after to be quite true. He continued, "Our aim is for a 100% recovery for you, but I have to tell you that there is a possibility that during the operation to repair your neck you could become paraplegic or may even die."

Relief evident

You could feel the silence from the team around the trolley as they awaited my response, "Well what are we hanging about for start cutting the bloody clothes off me!"

The relief they felt was evident by the banter between us as they began cutting my clothes. The nurse on my right said in her English midlands accent, "You come from near where I come from."

By this time our other two children Declan and Tina had arrived and the Orthopedic Registrar told them that with my attitude their work was half-done. With a huge grin he told them my response and Sarah said, "That’s Dad, no hanging about get on with the job."

The medical team began to tell me what each would do, inserting intravenous drips, a catheter and a trachea etc, etc. My last spoken words for three weeks were, "You guys do what you have to do, I’m going to sleep." Of course when I was able to write notes, Sarah, Tina and Declan said, "Well Dad we can say anything we like to you now and you can’t say a word back!"

From that Saturday afternoon to the following Thursday was mainly a haze as I was kept sedated with morphine. On Wednesday I was allowed to sedate myself. Weird dreams were the choice to severe pain. On the Monday two pins were inserted in the fractures in the neck and a halo attached to my head. The following day plates were inserted into my face and my nose reset. The I.C.U staff was so helpful to Helen and the children and kept their spirits up.

As I was lying on my back with no movement, chest X-Rays were taken each morning to detect pneumonia. Late on the Wednesday night I sensed something was wrong with me and asked them to send for Helen. Just as she arrived the sensors went off.

Helen told me afterwards that I was so hot she could not touch me. Pneumonia had set in. Thanks to modern medicine it was under control in a short time. The following morning I was fitted with a brace that covered my rib cage and was attached to the halo. This wonderful invention which I had to wear continually for twelve weeks kept my spine rigid until the fractures healed. (The fractures I had were C1 and C2 also known as "The Hangman’s Noose" as this is the part of the neck broken in executions.)

Allowed out of bed

As soon as the brace was fitted I was placed in an upright position; boy was that a scary movement. The following day Friday I was allowed to get out and sit beside the bed, and on the Sunday I asked the nurse, "If I walk to the toilet with your help, maybe we could have a wheelchair for coming back?" With a big grin she said, "Let’s go then Superman!" With a petite blond holding one arm and a hefty porter the other I set off. After a few steps I had my balance fairly well and saw the I.C.U ward for the first time. A row of nine beds with patients in various degrees of comatose. The nurse called out "Hi everyone a look Declan is walking!" Every member of the I.C.U staff turned around and began to clap and cheer as I walked assisted the length of the ward. If someone had told me a week earlier that I would be walking that day I would have laughed at them.

no lookiing back

From then on there was no looking back and within another week I was off all medication. I came home on Friday July 2, and followed the advice of the surgeon, "When you get home take it easy and rest, we have better things to do than to have to repair you a second time."

The multinational I.C.U. staff included a young Asian Doctor who had attended the Loreto Convent in Dublin, and a young Glaswegian Celtic supporter who was so delighted when I wrote a note to say I knew Sean Fallon. When I was going home I thanked each of them for their care and wonderful friendship, to be told that I was the one who did the work and that it was a great thrill for them to see me walking out the door.

Three months of sleeping semi-upright plenty of dairy based food and lots of relaxation and good care from Helen and our kids made a great difference. I was allowed back to work after five months and got a full bill of health on February 28 this year. The fractures have completely healed and the surgeon told me that in the majority of cases they don’t heal as well as mine. In such cases these people suffer on-going headaches which can be quite severe. A slight loss of hearing in my right ear is the only after effect I have.

I work alongside Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Buddhists and they all told me they prayed for my healing. The hospital staff told me I was very lucky man to be alive, others tell me my recovery was miraculous. I say it was God’s will. As one who believes God in preference to believing in Him, as I lay on the ground that day I said, "Whatever is to be God I accept" and I totally relaxed my mind and body.

Daily I thank to God for the great talents that all those involved in healing the sick have.