Call to expand rehabilitation services for crash survivors


HARROWING ACCOUNTS of the impact of road crashes on families of the dead and maimed were given at a conference on road safety held in Dublin Castle yesterday.

The gathering was also told by one of the State’s leading medical consultants that access to rehabilitation services for crash survivors was “practically non-existent” in the Republic.

Dr Áine Carroll, president of the Irish Association of Rehabilitation Medicine, told the conference there should be at least 30 trauma consultants for a State the size of the Republic, but in fact there were only six.

“We do not have any hospitals that meet the status of a trauma one centre, we do not have any trauma networks, so the important thing about getting people the right services at the right time is not set up,” she warned.

Dr Carroll, former chairwoman of the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire, also said: “We have 46 inpatient beds, we should have in excess of 300. From a government, strategy and human point of view, we need to start investing properly and ensuring the survivors of trauma get the treatment they need.”

She said about one-third of acquired brain injuries in the State were related to road traffic collisions, the consequences of which could be enormous and affect a wide range of family and friends of the victim.

“I deal with the survivors, and it’s not just individuals who survive. It has a ripple effect,” she said.

Patients often need help dealing with paralysis, seizures, problems with memory, mood changes, language problems and perception. The conference heard some cannot speak, cannot co-ordinate their limbs, while others may need help opening their bowels.

Dr Carroll was supported by Fergal Hickey, president of the Irish Association of Emergency Medicine, who said access to emergency treatment was vital for the survival of patients.

Former broadcaster and journalist Joe Moore of Athlone, Co Westmeath, told the conference organised by the Road Safety Authority he doesnt remember what happened to him in a crash in November 2005.

He said he suffered brain injury and his voice was severely affected as was his ability to broadcast, draw cartoons and to write for newspapers. With the help of his wife Maralyn he outlined for the conference difficulties he encounters in dressing and washing and managing pain in his legs. In her address to the conference, Maralyn said Joe had been in hospitals in Ballinasloe, Beaumont and Dún Laoghaire until June 2006 and while waiting for a stent to arrive at Beaumont from the US, had contracted MRSA and pneumonia. When he came home she was told her experience would be somewhat like minding a child and Joe frequently became upset with his inability to manage by himself.

Since the crash their social lives have had to change completely, he had improved over the years “and we thank God for that” but she said the crash had a devastating impact on the whole family.

Garrett Doyle, of Roscommon, told the conference he was a back seat passenger in a car when it crashed in 2001. “There were three fatalities. A good friend of mine died in the front seat, and a 14-year girl and her father in the other car.”

He was thrown across the dual carriageway. He suffered a serious brain injury, crush injuries, massive orthopaedic injuries, and could not remember growing up, did not remember meeting or marrying his wife, or the birth of his son.

He said his son drew a picture in which his father was in a hospital bed, and a child asked will his father ever play football.

“I felt like a piece of meat. I was left with significant deficits – my family and work life changed dramatically. It’s the human aspect of crashes that is sometimes overlooked,” he said.

Losing a daughter: ‘It is the family that has to live with the grief’

ANN MORAN of Westport, Co Mayo, spoke movingly of the night in December 2002 when she was told her 19-year-old daughter Regina’s car had been seen at the side of a road with its roof cut off.

She told the conference entitled “The Human Impact of Road Collisions”: “When I went into the trauma room I saw my beautiful little girl covered in tubes, and her head was encased in a big rubber red block, with a machine making her lungs rise up and down.

“My whole world fell apart and somehow I just knew that I would never ever get to talk to her again.”

Regina was three days on life support, but the hospital said she was brain dead and she died without recovering consciousness.

Before the funeral Regina’s brother, who has special needs, had pulled at her nose in order to wake her up, Ms Moran said.

But as devastating as the sudden loss and funeral was, Ms Moran said the intervening nine years were as bad.

Regina’s brother still hopes his sister will be coming back from Heaven, where he has been told she is minding her gran. “Regina used to take him for spins in her car. How can I tell him he will never see her again?” Ms Moran asked.

Regina’s sister also had great difficulty. In the years after Regina’s death her sister suffered a breakdown, wanting her own life to end and to be with Regina as soon as possible, Ms Moran said.

She added it was difficult to offer any words of consolation as her own greatest hope of seeing Regina again would be only when she herself “passed over”.

“It is the family that has to live with the grief. It has had a terrible affect on each and every one of us. No parent should have to bury their child and each day we battle on trying to understand why she was taken.”