Geraldine Lavelle is determined to walk again after spinal injury
Family fundraise for 27-year-old Mayo woman injured when out cycling
Geraldine Lavelle: Her routine of going for a 10km cycle before work had built up her physical strength and helped her to get through 10 hours of surgery after the incident.
Geraldine Lavelle was out for her daily pre-work 10km cycle in Longford last Halloween when her future changed in an instant.
A road collision left the 27-year-old Castlebar native, who had graduated from NUI Galway with a first-class master’s degree in neuroscience, with spinal fractures and paralysed from the chest down.
It is not the scale of her injuries that have driven the fundraising campaign which is growing behind her, but her determination to defy her prognosis and to one day walk again.
“I call her absolutely amazing ... she is an absolute fighter with pure willpower,” said her sister Mary Lavelle.
She spoke of the mental strength shown by Geraldine in the past seven months. “She is very determined ...
“I don’t know how people cope when their whole life trajectory becomes different to the life they had been given ... but she has handled this with such dignity.”
The qualified gym instructor had won gold and silver medals for kickboxing at international level and had completed a 65km charity cycle the weekend before her injury. “She was always go, go go,” Ms Lavelle said.
Despite her work day as a diagnostic technologist for Abbott not starting until lunchtime she was not one for “sitting around and watching television” and so would go for a 10km cycle as part of her routine, Ms Lavelle said.
It was the resulting fitness and the physical strength of her heart which doctors credit with her spinal cord not snapping in the crash and her ability to come so well through some 10 hours of surgery.
Following the operation, she was taken to recover at a high dependency ward rather than intensive care.
After just three weeks she was sent to the National Rehabilitation Centre in Dún Laoghaire, where she remains and prepares to return home to Castlebar.
She has been at the south Dublin facility for more than six months, where she often undertakes double the required amount of physiotherapy and occupational therapy. The staff are “almost telling her to take a break” and she has “shocked” them by doing an extra hour after the sessions finish, her sister said. “She’s pushing herself and making strides.”
In April she took part in the Stoke Mandeville Hospital games in the UK, where she won a silver medal and received an award for “overall outstanding achievement and endeavour” at a ceremony attended by her boyfriend.
“Anyone who could stand gave her an ovation, they were so astounded with her,” Mary Lavelle said.
Geraldine has refused to accept her medical prognosis and has set herself a goal of walking again and returning to life before the crash.
She and her family are looking into innovative treatments abroad which could enhance her mobility, from organisations such as the Christopher and Diana Reeve Foundation and the Mark Pollock Trust.
Her scientific background gives her an ability to judge all of the options on offer, Mary Lavelle said.
She thinks her sister would be of benefit to any research project due to this knowledge and her athletic ability.
“She is so in tune with her body and aware of physiology and neurology she would be an asset wherever she goes,” she said.
The family is preparing for her imminent return to Castlebar and is extending the house to allow her as much independent living as possible.
As well as helping with new treatments, they hope fundraising will assist with the expensive equipment needed for her rehabilitation – such as a €1,000 bed, a special bike to stimulate the nerves in her legs and a standing frame to stop demineralisation of her bones. They even hope it may be possible to expand her freedom with a specially equipped automatic car.
The Geraldine Lavelle Trust has already gained more than 2,000 followers on Facebook and has several fundraising efforts in the pipeline.
Among these are a Midsummer Night’s Party for Geraldine in the Welcome Inn, Castlebar, on June 21st.
Mary Lavelle said what happened to her sister had changed her reactions every time she hears of a crash on the radio. “My heart goes out to anyone who finds themselves in this position,” she said. However, she is buoyed by her sister’s spirit not to let the injury stand in her way.
For more information see thegeraldinelavelletrust.com