A YOUNG DUBLIN man who was seriously injured in the US while on his J1 is to journey back to the site of the accident five years on.
Dubliner Pádraig Schaler – whose story we have covered extensively on TheJournal.ie - received a serious brain injury after he was knocked off his bike while in Cape Cod.
On the five-year anniversary of the incident on Route 6A in Brewster next week, Pádraig and his parents Reinhard and Patricia will journey to the location to raise awareness of bike safety and to meet with local police and the Attorney General about his case.
Pádraig fell into a coma after the incident, and was brought by his family to Germany for treatment. He has since returned to Ireland where thanks to the work and dedication of his family and a team of medical professionals, he is at the point where he can communicate with his family.
- “It’s agony”: Pádraig is in a coma – his family say Ireland’s healthcare system has failed him
“It’s the 5th anniversary of Padraig’s accident and there’s a few open issues so we haven’t really found closure on some of the things,” Reinhard – who has been blogging about his son’s experience – tells TheJournal.ie.
“The most important is we have told Pádraig about the accident and asked him what he remembers… He knows and remembers that he worked there in a café and a hotel there close to where the accident happened. He obviously doesn’t remember anything from the accident and afterwards.”
There were also issues around Pádraig’s insurance, which his father says are being addressed. However at one point, the family thought they “mightn’t just lose Pádraig, but we might lose all our money” due to the insurance issues. Pádraig requires 24-hour care and extensive neuro-rehabilitation.
Chiefly, the family say that they were unhappy with the original investigation into Pádraig’s accident and that police told them they were going to get an independent expert to look into the issue.
“The Sheriff told us it was the worst accident he had witnessed in his 20-30 year long career,” says Reinhard of his son’s catastrophic accident.
The family complained about the police investigation to the Attorney General, and are due to meet with her in Cape Cod.
“We sent them all the legal depositions that we have and we haven’t received a proper reply to the point that we were trying to make,” says Reinhard. “We got a phone call. What we want is something a little more formal and to the point and we haven’t received that so what we’re going to do when we get there, we’re going to have a meeting with the Attorney General in her office.”
After they arrive at Cape Cod, they will walk from Brewster Police Department to the spot of the incident, which is about a mile in distance, and are inviting people to join them.
While in the US, they want to raise awareness around drivers and cyclists staying safe on the road. ”It’s about closure, raising awareness and reminding Americans that cars have to share the road,” says Reinhard, adding that they are even going to bring some Road Safety Authority videos on the issue with them.
With their ‘Walk for Life’, they want to:
- Remind drivers to share the road and drive responsibly
- Call for thorough, un-biased accident investigations, especially those involving cyclists
- Highlight the enormous emotional and financial burden on families of victims
- Repeat their call for a programme of driver education on the Cape and an initiative to make adequate insurance cover for drivers obligatory.
How does he feel about the trip? “I’m pretty apprehensive,” says Reinhard. “This is the closure bit.”
He says that one option for the family is “to try and forget about it and move on, and the other is to stay with it and go there and see it and make a new memory of the place.”
They family were told that Pádraig “would have an intolerable life” or might not survive his injuries. Neither of these things turned out to be true.
“All that is a thing of the past and he is able to travel, he is able to enjoy life to an extent and he is off all that medication. This summer he is going to get rid of his peg so he is eating and drinking since the beginning of the year. That is the last artificial entry into his body so he hasn’t recovered as we might have hoped, but he has [recovered to an extent] and he has been enjoying life,” says his father.
Pádraig and his parents have travelled quite a bit, even putting up with cancelled flights and other issues in their quest for Pádraig to have a full life. It is testament to their dedication to their son, and his own strength, that they are at this point.
All of what they’ve gone through makes Reinhard reflect on how we treat brain injury in Ireland.
“People who say ‘if something like this happens to me tell them to switch off the life support’ and ‘that’s something I wouldn’t want for myself’, that might work for some but I know that Pádraig – he can’t talk yet but he can spell, communicate, he is enjoying life – not all the time but we want to make that as enjoyable as possible to him,” says Reinhard.
They have continued to learn since the first trip they took with him, which was a 30-hour train trip to Lourdes with the Order of Malta. “It was a huge big journey and nobody knew how it would turn out – you never know how it would turn out. It’s now almost a routine travelling with Pádraig. It’s still at times a bit nerve-wracking but it’s nothing in comparison with three years ago. It is brilliant.”
‘He’s not an exception’
Pádraig’s father says his son is not an exception in how he has improved with the level of neuro-rehabilitation care that he has received.
“We have a professor in Germany, a specialist. I said to him maybe Pádraig is an exception – he said no, he isn’t. Of course there are always people injured with a brain injury who unfortunately have no prospect of recovery,” says Reinhard. “But generally if you are young and if you get the right support there is a very good chance that you will recover to a degree.”
Reinhard describes it as “infuriating” to see what other families with grown children who have brain injury are going through. “There’s no need for anybody to suffer as a lot of those injured people do suffer,” says Reinhard.
The family have faced many obstacles in their quest to get proper treatment and care for Pádraig. And due to this, they decided that they want to help other people to get the best care they can in this situation.
They have developed An Saol, a centre for people with serious acquired brain injury, which they hope will provide therapy services for patients and some respite for their family members.
They are awaiting money to arrive from the HSE which will allow them advertise for positions, and lock down a premises.
“We’ve done a lot of work already – hopefully it won’t be long before we can start delivering services,” says Reinhard.
Reinhard has been critical of the health service in Ireland, and how “there aren’t even waiting lists for people like Pádraig”. Pádraig’s mother Pat is currently on sick leave, while Reinhard is on a career break – and they realise how lucky they are.
It shouldn’t be like that, and Pádraig is the example of if you invest in somebody it’s not hopeless.
His son lives a dignified life where he is encouraged to reach his full potential.
Reinhard compares the treatment of people with serious brain injury to other serious health issues. “Nobody would dream of stopping medication for a cancer patient that is most likely going to die over the next few months,” he says, questioning the level of rehabilitation care that people with brain injury receive in Ireland.
He sees the treatment of people with severe brain injury as a scandal on the same level as Magdalene homes – something Ireland will look back on and be ashamed of.
“The Magdalenes were always a scandal. It’s just that people didn’t register it, or ignored it. Maybe society was the way it was and just accepted it was normal and it never was.
What’s happening to people with very severe acquired brain injury is I think society will look back at today in 20 years time and say ‘oh my God how could we allow this to happen, who was in charge, why did nobody do anything about this?’ We are the people who can bring this change now, we don’t have to wait 20 years. It’s a terrible scandal. It breaks your heart when you see what is happening.
The family have met with Health Minister Simon Harris, which led to some moves being made with An Saol. Reinhard says that “what we are doing with [An Saol] is not something that is being recognised as being necessary by the established health system. Even the fact we are getting funding for this is a humongous change in the way it is being looked at, so it’s brilliant”.
What this will hopefully kick off is that people will change their hearts and minds about how they think and how they look at how they think about acquired brain injury.
He says that professionals have made “incredible statements” to the family, such as a nurse who asked in front of Pádraig: “Would it be better if he died?”
“People have to change,” says Reinhard.
Pádraig and Reinhard will travel to Cape Cod alongside Patricia, his mother, and friend Cian Waters on 25 June. On 27 June they will undertake their ‘Walk for Life’ to the spot where Pádraig was knocked down.