‘My arm got caught and torn off’ – cyclist coping after accident
‘I still have my helmet at home from the day of my accident. It’s split right down the middle’
Eamonn McSweeney looks at the helmet which is split in two. This is the helmet he wore the day he was involved in a serious cycling accident in which he lost part of his right arm.
The father of two from Churchtown, Dublin, is a keen cyclist. During a training session with his local cycling club in May 2013, he was cycling downhill when his bike slipped on gravel.
“Hitting gravel on a road bike is like hitting ice in a car . . . I didn’t lose the bike straight away but I lost control and I knew it was going to be bad.
“I knew I was going to hit the barrier so I unclipped my feet from the pedals, and I tried to make it off the bike before crashing into the barrier but it didn’t quite work.
“My trailing arm got caught and snagged in the upright support of the crash barrier which you would see on mountain roads.
“My arm got caught and was torn off basically. It wasn’t clean cut but it separated completely.
“I landed on the ground but I wasn’t unconscious. I had no other injuries but as soon as I came to a little, I knew it was bad,” he adds.
Mr McSweeney remembers his cycling companions frantically called an ambulance. The ambulance took about 25 minutes to arrive and brought him to Tallaght hospital where his injuries were assessed.
“They kept me conscious until the surgeon arrived to talk to me. He told me that the he could save the arm below [the] elbow, which was important, but he couldn’t reattach the [lower] arm. There was too much damage and that’s the last I remember before going to surgery.”
I’m lucky that I got a second chance to tell my story
Mr McSweeney became a day patient in the National Rehabilitation Hospital, Dún Laoghaire, during his rehabilitation.
“I was fortunate in ways,” he says, because while his right arm was damaged, he is left-handed. “I was able to return to normal life and get back to things like driving. I have a prosthetic part to my right arm now. I had a pretty basic one for the first few years but recently got a better one which has a myo-electric prosthetic sensor. It has a sensor built into the socket which means I can flick the muscle at the end of my arm,” adds Mr McSweeney.
He recalls his children Sarah (14) and Louis (11) coming in to the hospital to visit him in the immediate aftermath.
“I remember them being frightened when they first came in because I looked a little different and they were younger than they are now; but we were soon laughing and joking and acting normal again. My wife Catherine was absolutely brilliant and I thought it was very difficult for her because all the sympathy was directed at me, but yet she was the one who had to keep things going. I had a great network around me during my recovery.”
One of the biggest issues was the battle with his insurance company over his prosthetic arm. “They considered my prosthetic arm an appliance and this was not covered under my own insurance policy. I faced a long-winded battle with them. I didn’t win that battle.
“In that intervening period, I was just walking around with the stump of my arm and it can be tiresome when people stare. By the time I got the first basic prosthetic arm, it restored my confidence again as it did away with people giving you those second glance looks.”
Mr McSweeney says that he hasn’t been put off cycling but his attitude has changed.
“I have always been a keen cyclist and that will probably never change, but I’m a lot more careful now. Speed was a factor in my accident, road bikes go very fast, but I would never have considered myself to be a reckless cyclist.
“I would be uncomfortable now cycling in heavy traffic so most of my cycling is done out in Co Wicklow, ” he says.
His message to other cyclists is simple:wearing a helmet is vital to saving lives. “I still have my helmet at home from the day of my accident. It’s split right down the middle, so when I hit the ground it was my head that hit the road. In general people both cyclist and motorists have to be mindful of each other and respect one another.
“I’m lucky that I got a second chance to tell my story, other people are not as lucky.”