My Health Experience: ‘My eyes were fixed and dilated. I was basically dead’

A clash during a rugby warm-up left 14-year-old Kerry schoolboy Ronan Fitzgerald unable to play contact sports again

I'm going into second year in Mercy Secondary School Mounthawk in Tralee. I am big into sport and really like rugby and football. My cousin is Kerry footballer Kieran Donaghy. The accident happened on November 3rd last year when I was doing a rugby warm-up. I clashed heads with two of my friends.

We were going through exercises and I was in a ruck and someone ran in from the side and his head hit off mine and I hit against another head.

All this was told to me afterwards. The last thing I remember is from before Halloween last year so I have no memory of the accident or what happened just after when I woke up.

After the clash, I went to the sidelines and was getting sick. They called my parents and when they came they saw me and knew I wasn’t well, so they rushed me to the hospital in Tralee. There, they did a scan on my head and found I had a left-sided bleed from my brain. There was no blood on the outside because it was just bleeding on the inside. They told me after it was a subdural haemorrhage – I think that’s the proper name for it anyway.


From Tralee, I went to Cork University Hospital (CUH). The ambulance only took one hour to get me there and the neurosurgery team was waiting to meet me. My Dad says it was like battlefield surgery and they didn't even take me off the ambulance gurney I was on.

My eyes were fixed and dilated and I was basically dead at that point. What they had to do was open the left-hand side of my head, from my ear to the mid temple, and cut out a section of the skull and take the pressure off the brain.

After a few days they took me off the life support machine and then I spent eight weeks there in the Puffin Ward in the CUH.

I was in a wheelchair and had to have speech and language therapy. I couldn’t have a conversation and couldn’t walk around.

Like, if there was a car I was trying to talk about, I would say house instead of car, and I couldn’t remember the names of things or get the words out.

Megan was my occupational therapist and she was very good to me, and everyone there was very good in the hospital to be fair.

I had to go to Dún Laoghaire also to the National Rehabilitation Centre for more than six weeks I think, to learn how to walk again. It was strange being in a wheelchair especially as I was used to being so sporty and active. I made some friends who were there also, so that helped. I was in hospital for four months altogether and I was so glad to get home.

I am grand now and don’t mind the scar. I think it is kind of cool. I can’t do sports anymore.

It is in case I get a knock on my head and that would be very bad and could be fatal. Not being able to do sports is very hard, especially as I was so sporty.

I still go to training and I can do the running and the drills, but I can’t do the contact parts of it. I go to matches though and was mascot at a Kerry match recently.

I know I am very lucky to be alive, but I am annoyed to be honest. The chance of the injury happening was so small, that I am really angry it did happen.

Oh, I forgot. Paul O’Connell came over to my house for a cup of tea when I was recovering and it was unreal. He signed my jersey. He was a very nice guy and was chatting away with me and asking how I was getting on.

With my memory now, I would say it is almost 95 per cent there. I’ll continue to improve. I have a meeting with the doctor next month and he’ll tell me how I am getting on.

They asked me to help launch Cork University Hospital children's ward as the charity for Cork Rebel Week, which is in October. I had to go to have pictures taken and I was really nervous doing it but it was cool. They want people to buy Cork Visas, which cost €2, and all the money goes to the children's ward.

People ask me did I ever meet the lad in the ruck who I hit against and I did meet him and he said sorry. I said don’t worry about it. I didn’t get to talk to the other guy yet, but I would like to. They all say he felt really guilty but it wasn’t his fault at all. I’d like to tell him that.

My Dad says that the people who minded me in hospital did a better job than he or my mam would have done. They were outstanding. I just want to say thank you to all the people who were very good to me. I'm grand now.

In conversation with Brian O'Connell