Wednesday 26 June 2019

'When I woke, my legs wouldn't work' - Ex-Cork City player Ian Turner credits a call to a doctor for saving his life in poisoning tragedy


Ian Turner: ‘It’s important for me to tell my story so people can be aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide. I carry a detector with me always, I even have one on my bag at training’. Photo: Daragh McSweeney/Provision
Ian Turner: ‘It’s important for me to tell my story so people can be aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide. I carry a detector with me always, I even have one on my bag at training’. Photo: Daragh McSweeney/Provision

Marie Crowe

Sports people often have a story to tell, but it's rare that such tales will stop you in your tracks and make you ponder the fragility of life. Ian Turner's is one of those.

"I'm lucky to be alive, I know that, I still to this day can't believe what happened that night," he says.

In January 2011, pre-season with Cork City was just around the corner for the then 20-year-old, so before the hard training began, Turner decided to take his girlfriend away for a weekend to the Trident Hotel in Kinsale with their friends.

After they checked in to the hotel they opted to have a few drinks in their room. While getting ready to go out, his girlfriend was in the bathroom doing her make-up when she started to feel unwell. She rested for a bit but there was little improvement. In fact, things started to take a bad turn very quickly.

"She passed out on the bed for a bit but came around again," recalls Turner. "Our friends who were with us came in. She was half out of it and half awake and then she just started screaming. We were kind of holding her, we didn't know what was going on. She stopped screaming and was ok but then after a few minutes she went back out of it again.

"When she woke up, she didn't know where she was. We knew that it was something bad so we rang the ambulance. They arrived just as she was coming around, they checked her over, gave her paracetamol and said she was ok."

Ian Turner. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Ian Turner. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

After the ambulance left, Turner started to feel light-headed too but he put it down to the shock of what had just happened.

"They attempted to get ready to go out again but felt too unwell and figured that they could just sleep off their sickness. Even though the paramedics had checked over his girlfriend, Turner couldn't shake the feeling that something was seriously wrong.

Just before he hopped into bed he decided to call SouthDoc, an out-of-hours medical service in Cork and Kerry. He explained what had happened and they told him that they were coming to the hotel.

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"The next thing I remember was hearing someone banging on the door. It was around midnight. When I woke up I was lying on the floor covered in sick, my legs wouldn't work. I crawled over to the door and opened it. The doctor and the guards were there, they barged into the room.

"It got a bit blurry for me then but I remember getting to the bathroom and trying to throw water on my face and thinking I need to pull myself together. Our friends had arrived back too and they filled us in on the blanks.

"The guards were searching our room as they thought we had taken drugs. I passed out again in the bathroom and the next thing I remember is having a guard with one arm around me and a paramedic also holding me and carrying me out of the hotel.

"They put my girlfriend onto a stretcher and brought her out too. We started to come around when we went outside. The paramedic kept asking us what we took, they just assumed we were young people on drugs.

"They brought us to A&E in Cork University Hospital, they gave her a lumbar puncture and brain scan but they couldn't figure out what was wrong with her so they kept her in. They put me on a drip and then at around 6.0 am sent me home."

At this stage Turner was completely unaware of the tragedy that was unfolding back at the hotel.

Sisters Patricia Reidy-Russell and Miriam Reidy, who were also staying in the hotel, were showing similar symptoms to the young couple. They too were visited by a doctor. They were treated for the winter vomiting bug but they remained in the hotel for the night.

The following morning they were discovered by a friend. Patricia was unconscious but was ultimately saved by paramedics. Miriam was unconscious too. She didn't survive. She died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

When news of the tragedy broke, Turner got a call from the hospital asking him to come back in. It was now clear that the young couple had also been poisoned by the lethal gas but his call to the doctor had saved their lives. They were treated for the effects of carbon monoxide and then discharged after a couple of days.

"It's still hard to make sense of it. To this day I don't know why I rang SouthDoc that night. The ambulance had already gone away so I don't know why I rang them. We didn't realise at the time how crazy it was . . . It's important for me to tell my story so people can be aware of the dangers of carbon monoxide. I carry a detector with me always, I even have one on my bag at training." In the months and years that followed, it transpired that a gas boiler in the hotel had leaked causing the gas to flow into their rooms.

In 2014, plumber Richard Davis was found not guilty at Cork Circuit Court of the manslaughter of Miriam Reidy. Turner has never heard from the hotel.

A few weeks after the incident he returned to training with Cork City. He says he went through the motions but knew that he wasn't himself.

"My team-mate Neal Horgan said to me I was like a ghost in training for about six weeks after it. It was a lot to process and I was very young at the time."

Turner hasn't shown any long-term effects of his ordeal. He is 29 now, has a decade of professional football under his belt and has plenty of good years left.

His career started when he joined Cork City at 18, first with the reserves and then he made the step up to the first team. It was a dream come true for him as they were the club he had supported his whole life. Since then he has played with Limerick and St Patrick's Athletic as well as a couple of stints with Cork City in between which saw him win an FAI Cup medal.

Turner, who is currently on the hunt for a new club, has spent the last 18 months at St Pat's but a burst appendix at the end of last year put him on the back foot and the lengthy recovery meant he was chasing the season. He's ready for a fresh start now.

"Football has always been solid for me, I've always wanted to play more games so sometimes I may have put too much pressure on myself to move so I could play more. At the time you feel like you have to do this or that and then, looking back, you wonder did you really need to. As you get older you make better decisions. I'm 29 now and I still feel like I'm in my prime."

So with the new season around the corner, it's the beginning of another chapter for the Cork man and like always he plans on making the most of it.

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