Cork dad left paralysed issues warning to others: “If I can save one person from falling off a ladder as I did, then I’d be happy.”

Left paralysed after an accident at his home a year ago, John Kennedy tells CHRIS DUNNE how he has come to terms with the aftermath, and why he is grateful that fundraising will enable his family to live in a new home
Cork dad left paralysed issues warning to others: “If I can save one person from falling off a ladder as I did, then I’d be happy.”
John Kennedy, of Coachford, who was paralysed from the waist down after falling from a ladder at home, in Cobh, County Cork, with his wife Ina, and daughter Jessica, four.

WHEN John Kennedy gazes out at the glittering lights across Cobh harbour from the big window in his brother’s house, he thinks about the lovely view that he will soon have in his new home in Kilmurry.

“Kathleen Barrett, our engineer, helped design our first home, in Carrigadrohid, and now she is offering her services again, free of charge this time, which is so nice of her,” says John, aged 40.

“I remember myself and Ina coming back from honeymoon and looking forward to living together in our first home.

“Our daughter, Jessica, who is four now, took her first steps there. I think of all the important milestones.”

Last year, on October 6, life changed overnight for John when he had a tragic accident at home.

He was on a ladder in his shed reaching up to the loft for his tools when he fell, breaking two vertebrae in his back and paralysing him from the waist down.

A percentage of the proceeds from the annual Coachford Family Festival go towards supporting John and his family, helping them to build and move into the new house in Kilmurry, which will be custom-built and designed to suit John’s ongoing needs.

The Family Festival in July, featuring a five-mile road race, which was voted the best in Cork in 2017 and 2018, and a non-competitive family walk, catered for all ages, and also included a vintage car and tractor run.

“The support from people holding events, from local GAA clubs, Cobh and Kilmurry, and from other local organisations has just been amazing,” says John.

“I’d like to thank each and everyone who continues to support me.”

John recalls the autumn evening in 2018 when his life changed forever.

“I was changing the light bulbs for the winter,” he recalls. “And I was looking for the vice-grips in the loft. The ladder slipped and I fell about eight feet to the ground.”

Straight away, John knew it was not good.

“I knew the second I landed I was in trouble,” says John, who was an active member of Coachford Cycle Club and a keen runner, completing several marathons.

“I had no movement; no feeling. I broke my hand in the fall.”

In a split second life, life as he knew it changed.

“The paramedics arrived and they alerted the air ambulance, which landed in Bishopstown GAA field. I was brought to CUH and when I was assessed, I went by ambulance to the Mater in Dublin.

“I was there for a week and then transferred back to CUH for three weeks.”

What was he thinking?

“The shock lasted a few months,” says John.

“I don’t remember much about the Mater, just my family being all around me.”

Now ward 2B was his home for three months.

“The staff in CUH were outstanding,” says John.

“The first week, I had physiotherapy. I sat up in the wheelchair and I got moving.

“I had physio every day from Monday to Friday. I had broken two vertebrae, T11 and T12. I was wheel-chair bound.”

How did he feel?

“I knew that I’d never walk again,” says John. “I accepted it. Then you try and get your head around: I’ll never walk again. It took me months to take in.

“I loved being active. Cycling was my hobby. I cycled 50k most evenings, clocking up hundreds of miles in a week.”

He always thinks about the wonderful medical care he received in Cork and in Dublin.

“Dr Emer Smith in the National Rehabilitation Centre is fabulous,” says John.

“She is very approachable and she’s just a nice lady.

“I was in the NRC for three months and I was treated both physically and mentally.”

He thinks about how lucky he was.

Nick Martin and his children Olivia, Lisa and Joey, Aghabullogue, at the Coachford five mile road race and four mile walk in Co. Cork with proceeds going to the John Kennedy Fund and local charities.Picture Denis Minihane.
Nick Martin and his children Olivia, Lisa and Joey, Aghabullogue, at the Coachford five mile road race and four mile walk in Co. Cork with proceeds going to the John Kennedy Fund and local charities.Picture Denis Minihane.

“Believe it or not, I am on the luckier side,” says John.

“That’s the frightening part. People are in the same boat as you, yes, but I feel luckier than most.”

He has thought about life in the future.

“My daughter was just three then,” says John of the time of the accident.

“I thought, she’ll never have a dad who can hurl with her or who will kick a ball with her. That’s the reality of life.”

The reality is that John has a great support network around him, encouraging him, lifting him, all eager to welcome him and his family into their new home to start a new life.

“I’m the eldest of five,” says John. “My wife, Ina, my brothers, Mark, Paul, Martin, and our sister, Ciara are all there for me.

“Mark and his wife, Miriam, kindly let me stay here in their house with them while work is going on in the new house.

“They are fantastic. Mark even re-modelled the bathroom to accommodate me.

“Jessica loves playing with her cousin, Ellie, when she comes for a sleepover. They get on great together.”

John explains why he couldn't return to his old house in Carrigadrohid, a village between Coachford and Macroom.

“Our old house is two-storey,” says John. “The road in Carrigadrohid leading to the house is a very bumpy road, not suitable for a wheelchair.

“If I attempt to make a track down the road, I have to pull in to allow cars and bicycles to pass.

“So now the house is sold and we are building a new house, a bungalow, in Kilmurry.”

John beckons me over to the conservatory window in Cobh, overlooking the small boats bobbing gently on the ocean waves.

“My mum and dad, Mary and Sean, are just across the way, so it’s great to have them nearby.”

The family are on the road a fair bit.

“Yes! ‘says John, smiling. “It’s all systems go getting the house ready to move into.

“There is a lot of expense all round, bathrooms, accessible kitchen, equipment, like hoists, proper health and safety standards, fire escapes to be installed.”

John says people should always be vigilant about safety in the home.

“If you’re doing work at home, it should be done by the book. If you’re cutting the grass, wear ear plugs, wear gloves if you’re weeding. Wear eye-glasses if you’re strimming the hedge. Use a wedge to hold a ladder. Or get someone to hold the ladder for you.

“If I can save one person from falling off a ladder like I did, then I’d be happy.”

John thinks not a lot has really changed.

“I’m still an outdoor man!” he says.

He also thinks about getting on with his life.

“I am a validation engineer and my company, CAI, are very supportive. We’re exploring roles so that I can start back to work. I have to; otherwise I’d go mad!”

He has other plans.

“I got a lend of a hand-cycle and I’m beginning to get the hang of it,” says John.

“It is tough, but I’m getting used to it. The exercise is making my muscles stronger, keeping me in shape physically. And it gives me a great sense of freedom.

“In hospital, I was down to 71 kilo, now I’m 73 kilo. I’d like to be somewhere in the middle; 68 kilo.”

When will the family be moving to their new house in Kilmurry?

“Next May hopefully,” says John.

No doubt Kathleen Barrett and the massive support he has had from all quarters will make that happen.

“It’s looking good!” John agrees.

It’s onwards and upwards now for John and his family.

“I am naturally a ‘can do’ person,” he says. “If it can be done; I’ll do it.”

He thinks positive.

“I can live my life. We will live our lives. My four-year-old daughter will live life with me.”

John would like to thank the people who have helped him so much since the accident, including his in-laws who were also very supportive

“The below groups have supported Ina and I through the past ten months. I would be grateful if you could mention them,” he says.

Cobh GAA

Kilmurry GAA

Coachford Cycling Club

Coachford Harvest Festival

Kilmurry community

Ballymore Community Association

Carrigadrohid community and the wider area

John adds: “I also want to thank colleagues of Ina in the Mercy Hospital, and of my mother in Blackrock Garda station, and of my brothers Mark and Paul in Janssen Biopharmaceuticals, and my colleagues in CAI. And all individuals who very kindly donated. All of these donations have helped me to become more independent.”

John knows he has wonderful support in his corner. And he knows his local communities are solidly behind him, encouraging him, lifting him.

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