Three months, 82 litres of blood and 37 operations later, ‘Dodger’ came out of his coma
Each day my wife whispered in my ear, ‘come back to us, Keisha needs you’
Dave Conway with friends.
Rathcoole-born Dave Conway is known to his family and friends as “Dodger”, and with good reason. He has side-swerved death many times, although most people have no idea how he dodged his most recent brush with death.
As a youngster, Conway nurtured a simple dream: to have a family and live in Australia.
He moved to Sydney as a trained carpenter at 22 and, like many Irish “tradies” before him, trod a careworn path through Kirribilli, Darling Harbour and Coogee Beach. Within years, he had his permanent residency and, through friends, met the woman of his dreams. His dream was knitting together nicely.
Moving to the Gold Coast, Conway bought a six-bedroom house with his wife, Vivien, and, in 2010, they had their daughter, Keisha.
“When that dream became reality, I felt complete, whole and happy,” the now 37-year-old recalls. “It was the greatest time of my life. Even arriving in Australia in 2002, I had the strangest feeling, sense, of being welcomed home.”
Yet, a workplace accident on a construction site in Brisbane cut through Conway’s idyll. On the morning of July 10th, he plummeted 20 metres, or seven stories, from scaffolding.
“I somehow landed on my feet and my legs took the impact. They shattered, and then the pelvis and ribs were shattered. One [rib] burst through my lungs and my heart nearly gave in from the impact.
I think with such an horrific accident, our soul leaves the body during the ordeal
“I don’t remember the day [of the accident], the day before the accident, and I don’t remember most of the three months or so in a coma afterwards,” recalls Conway. “I think with such an horrific accident, our soul leaves the body during the ordeal and says, ‘no way am I going through that’.”
“Each day my wife whispered in my ear, ‘come back to us, Keisha needs you’.”
Three months, 82 litres of blood and 37 operations later, Conway eventually emerged from his coma.
“My first memory was reaching out to my mates Gerry and Lisa for help,” he recalls. “They were talking to me and I was saying, ‘help’. But they could not understand me as I had no voice, and when they lip-read me, they didn’t know what help I needed. I thought I was in a stretcher three stories high, and that they came in through the roof to talk to me.
“My wife has a video of this while I’m in a coma – arm up, reaching out for help. Doctors say it was muscle spasms but I remember being in a coma and reaching out to be lifted off this stretcher/ hospital bed.
“I remember nightmares in the coma, felt like someone was messing with my body parts – which was true as they were operating on me – but I experienced it differently as I was on a cocktail of drugs,” he explains.
Conway’s family and friends had travelled from Ireland and the US to the Gold Coast, and had kept a bedside vigil for those months. Suffice to say that they were overjoyed that he had survived.
Eventually, Conway was informed by medics that he had survived a fall, and that he had been comatose. He also realised that his legs had been amputated.
“I remember first telling the nurses to move my feet up onto the pillow as I could still – and can still, most of the time – feel my legs,” he says. “Then I looked up and saw one was gone and I asked my father, ‘one or two?’ ‘Both are gone,’ he said.
I was happy to feel the pain instead of accepting my legs are gone
“There have been about five times that different friends and family members had told me that my legs were gone, as each time I forgot or couldn’t accept it or blanked it out.
“The hospital offered nerve-ending pain-relief medication for many months, as I consistently felt my legs crushing and feet crushing but I refused the meds,” he adds. “I was happy to feel the pain instead of accepting my legs are gone.
“It all took weeks to register,” Conway admits. “My mind was blown when I was shown a video of where I fell onto a concrete slab. There were reinforcing bars sticking up out of the ground within a metre of where I landed, so I was very lucky not to land on them.”
Turning a corner
Eight months into his hospital stay, he accepted the pain-relief medication. It was to be a psychological corner turned.
“I was down each time I found out I had no legs, but the support and encouragement from friends and family let me believe I could get prosthetics and get back on my feet again,” he notes. “That did it for me. I accepted the fact I could be in a wheelchair for a year or two and then walk again, so I was okay. So much love and support came my way, which allowed me to feel overwhelmed with love and realise that anything is possible.”
Support came in more unlikely guises, too: “An Irish man called Micheál, aged 97, came in to the hospital, twice, first to give us a cheque for AU$5000 to help out and again at Christmas, when he came bearing gifts, such as Guinness, and presents for Keisha.”
Conway told the hospital’s physiotherapists that his goal, in terms of mobility, was to be able to pick up a glass of Guinness and drink it. It was a fitting ambition: a member from his trauma team had brought Guinness into the hospital, and his surgeon even allowed Guinness to be added to his medical chart for medicinal purposes.
All the while, Conway has realised that the Gold Coast has felt more like home than ever. He and Vivien are renovating their house to make it more accessible. Luckily, Conway had personal insurance, as well as insurance through his place of employment (his relationship with them remains close, and they have been supportive and generous, says Conway, since the incident). There is a fundraising page at youcaring.com, and his friends in Ireland also held a number of benefit nights, which helped with mortgage bills while Conway was hospitalised. And, for now, the long path of rehabilitation lies outstretched in front of him.
“I’ve got nearly half of [the house] done, so now I’m continuing on with the second half now,” he says. “I enjoy it, it keeps me busy and active. In case I don’t pull through due to organ damage – I have still not won the battle yet – I want to leave behind a masterpiece for my two girls, Vivien and Keisha.
A lot of good things have come out of this tragedy
“If I get through all these tests and my organs return to functioning correctly, I’d love to inspire and elevate as many people as possible. To leave this world a better place than I found it,” he adds.
“A lot of good things have come out of this tragedy, I always wanted my mother Connie over for at least a year. But since I awoke from the coma, she’s been there each and every day. I feel blessed to have her. Every Irish man loves their Mammy.”