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'Every muscle and nerve died in my body. I couldn't hear, I couldn't see, I couldn't speak'

Elaine Muldoon took part in Beaumont Hospital Foundation’s annual Honour Your Heroes event today.

Elaine Muldoon thanking Dr Margaret O’Brien, Consultant Neurologist (left) and Siobhan Tierney Pyke, Clinical Nurse Manager (right)
Elaine Muldoon thanking Dr Margaret O’Brien, Consultant Neurologist (left) and Siobhan Tierney Pyke, Clinical Nurse Manager (right)
Image: Robbie Reynolds

IN AUGUST 2016, Elaine Muldoon (51) began experiencing unexplained pains in her arms. 

About a week later, the pain had become unbearable and her GP advised her to go straight to the emergency department at Beaumont Hospital where she was admitted for further tests. 

Her condition continued to deteriorate and within days she no longer had power in her legs. 

She was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome – a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the nervous system. 

A week later, Muldoon’s body began to shut down. 

“[My body] just shut down, every muscle and nerve died in my body,” Muldoon told TheJournal.ie at Beaumont Hospital today as she honoured the medical staff who helped her with her recovery. 

I couldn’t hear, I couldn’t see, I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t eat. I was just in a locked-in syndrome type of thing. 

She was then moved from the high dependency unit on St Brigid’s Ward to Richmond ICU where she was intubated when her lungs stopped working. 

Muldoon eventually began to come out of her coma-like state and she started communicating with her eyes. 

Throughout all of this, she was in severe pain, which resulted in her being put on the highest doses of pain medication available.

As a result, she spent many months unaware of what was happening to her. The first memory Muldoon has following her deterioration is of celebrations for her daughter’s 18th birthday party in November 2018, which the family held with her in the ICU. 

Over the coming months, Muldoon contracted pneumonia twice while she was intubated and each time the medical staff at Beaumont Hospital believed she wouldn’t pull through. 

However, in May 2017, she began to show signs of improvement. 

She recalls how her thumb began to flick constantly as her nervous system began to reboot. After this, hospital staff removed her breathing tube for a while each day, leaving it out for longer and longer until she was finally breathing on her own again. 

Muldoon then went on to spend four months in the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire. 

“I had to reteach myself absolutely everything – how to talk, how to even focus. I still don’t have proper focus, I have double vision all the time, but you just get on with it,” Muldoon said, adding that her physiotherapy programme was “hard, hard work”.  

“Mentally it was hard, very hard,” she said. 

Despite the difficulty of her situation, Muldoon said she tried to remain positive. 

“I had it in my head that if I don’t get my legs back, I don’t get them back, but I wanted my top half of my body to feed myself and that was hard,” she said. 

After four months in Dun Laoghaire, Muldoon was able to return home with the use of a walker. 

Since then, she has followed her physio programme religiously and has taken up swimming to build her strength back up. 

Today, she is more or less fully recovered. 

“I would say I’m 99% recovered. I still have nerve damage on the tops of my fingers and my toes. I’m still on medication and if I didn’t take that medication I would know exactly that I didn’t take it. The nerves would start shooting through my body again,” she said. 

But I’m fine, I’m back driving, I’m back walking, I did the mini marathon last year. I’m back at life as best I can. 

Earlier today, Muldoon took part in the Beaumont Hospital Foundation’s annual Honour Your Heroes event, which highlights a small number of the many healthcare successes brought about by the 3,000 plus staff who work across 54 medical specialties at the hospital.

Muldoon thanked neurologist Dr Margaret O’Brien, Siobhan Tierney from the ITU department and senior physiotherapist in critical care Pedro Vasquez. 

“Every single person who works in Beaumont, they are amazing,” Muldoon said. 

The unit made me feel human again, they did just little things. Sure I came out looking about 10 years younger. I used to get facials on a Saturday. They were so, so good to me. 

What’s next for Elaine Muldoon? 

“Back to the normal routine, back to normal life now. Back working, got a little job for myself. Out walking with my friends, out having dinner and spa days and living.”

Muldoon was just one of seven patients who honoured staff today. The others include: 

Sacha Dekker (age 46) – She underwent brain surgery for a rare form of epilepsy. Complications during the operation caused a massive bleed leaving her with left side paralysis. She was told she would probably never walk unaided again. In 2017, two years to the day of her operation, she walked the Great Wall of China. Thanking Roisin Vance, Clinical Specialist Physiotherapist in Neurology. You can watch Dekker’s story here.

Aisling O’Carroll (age 28) – a classical soprano and pianist from Kerry, Aisling had her first epileptic seizure in 2015. On further examination at Beaumont Hospital, it was revealed that she had a ‘cavernoma’ – a cluster of abnormal blood vessels in the brain. She underwent major surgery which included a full craniotomy to remove the problem blood vessels. She has been seizure free ever since. She thanked neurosurgeon, Stephen McNally.

Attracta O’Regan (50s) – a busy working mother and solicitor, Attracta was struck down in 2016 with severe diarrhoea and bleeding, abdominal pain, vomiting, weight loss and exhaustion. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an incurable inflammatory bowel disease and treated through careful management of diet and medication. She thanked Dr Aoibhlinn O’Toole, consultant gastroenterologist and Mary Forry, clinical nurse specialist, IBD.

Jodie Regazzoli (age 23) – She was struck by a car after getting off a bus on her way to work in Swords Pavilion in 2018. She was given little chance of survival. She suffered traumatic head and multiple physical injuries and was in ITU for seven months. She has made a fantastic full physical recovery following what for others would have been debilitating injuries. She thanked Natasha Moran, health care assistant and the team of Richmond Ward.

Nicola Dunne (age 36) – She was diagnosed with breast cancer a month before the birth of her second child and had a mastectomy and chemo after his birth. She thanked Anne Staunton, breast nurse specialist.

Issey Kelly (age 9) – She was treated for a brain haemorrhage. Issey thanked neurosurgeon Mr Taufiq Sattar.

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