LIFE was good for James and Ann Deasy in the pretty Cork fishing village of Union Hall.
After a love affair with the sea most of his life, James, 51, had come ashore to work in the net-making industry.
The couple’s grown-up children, Faoilain and Saoirse, were doing well and Ann was enjoying her role as a support worker with CoAction, Skibbereen.
Most importantly, they were happy.
“We’ll be married 27 years in September,” says Ann. “And James is still smiling. He was always happy-go-lucky…”
Where did they meet?
“At a dance in Dunmanway. Joe Dolan was playing.”
Nearly a year ago, on March 25, 2017, the couple’s lives changed dramatically, when James fell from a height and lay in a critical condition on the ground.
Skibbereen Ambulance, West Cork Rapid Response and the Rescue 115 Helicopter from Shannon responded to the emergency and treated James at the scene.
“His mother was sitting outside next door,” says Ann. “It was a sunny day. She witnessed the fall. Whatever way she looked, she saw James tumble to the ground, falling from a height of 15 or 20 feet. She reacted quickly and she called the ambulance.”
James suffered life-changing injuries and has been unable to return home to live since.
Now a campaign has been launched to raise the funds that will allow him to go home and live with his family.
“We want to get James home as fast as we can,” says Gary Minihane, a member of the committee which was formed locally who are endeavouring to ‘Bring James Deasy Home’.
“We are all picturing the day he walks into his own home. We’ll have one big party.
“The house is not compatible for James’s needs going forward. Our aim is to raise €25,000 to make the house accessible and comfortable for James so he can come home to his family.”
The major campaign to bring James home is well and truly underway. Skibbereen Glow Fun Run in February and a sponsored cycle taking place on April 6/7 have helped galvanise support for the popular man.
“We look after our own,” says Gary.
Ann takes me back to almost a year ago when a normal spring day turned into a nightmare day.
“James was cutting down a tree at home in the garden when he fell,” she recalls. “When he tumbled, a big branch fell on top of him, adding to his injuries.”
Cathal, his nephew, and Faoilain, our son, were at home. Faoilain rang me and I asked him had his father broken another leg?”
But it was much more serious than that.
“He said ‘The ambulance is coming, mum’. I was with another family at the time and they offered to drive me to the hospital.
“On the way, my sister, Noreen, rang me. She asked was I alone? I heard the word ‘helicopter’, then I knew things were much more serious than I thought,” says Ann.
“Not much fazes me, but I was very worried.”
Help came quickly.
“Dr Jason van der Velde from Rapid Response attended the scene,” says Ann, herself a member of the Civil Defence.
Dr Jason works in a voluntary capacity for West Cork Rapid Response and he put James on a ventilator to take the pressure off his brain due to traumatic brain injury.
“Only for Dr Jason, I don’t think James would be alive today,” says Ann.
The ambulance, fire brigade and the helicopter from Shannon all responded within minutes.”
Ann had to face a trauma of her own.
“Dr Jason told me the extent of James’s injuries,” she says.
He had sustained serious head and brain injuries and multiple fractures to his hands and legs.
“James was anointed,” says Ann. “There wasn’t much hope.”
But Ann knew her man well, she knew about his steely determination and she knew that he wasn’t going to give up. He had too much to live for.
“He was determined to walk again. And all during his long, long rehabilitation, when he learned to write with his left hand, joining the dots, and trying again and again to put one foot in front of the other; he never got down on himself. Ever.”
What does Ann put his mighty spirit down to?
“I remember once, years ago, he went to Dr Larry O’Connor, our GP, now retired,” says Ann. “James had a minor accident and he was feeling sorry for himself. Dr Larry told him to ‘cop himself on’, and from that day on he just got on with things and nothing ever got him down.”
Ann stayed strong with the help of her family and friends.
She maintained a bedside vigil beside James, the man who never gave up. After 11 days, he began to show some signs of improvement.
“Faoilain, Saoirse, and I stayed in Brú Columbanus, which is a wonderful facility for people with loved ones in hospital,” says Ann. “We made great friends there with people who were in similar situations to ourselves. Initially, James was unable to speak or eat and had no mobility.”
But he had a lion heart.
“He is a fighter,” says Ann. “With the wonderful support of family and the staff at CUH, he began his journey back.”
It was slow but sure. James was transferred from the high-dependency unit at CUH, to the neuro ward to further facilitate his rehabilitation.
“The nurses were very positive,” says Ann. “They made you feel safe, but they didn’t hide stuff.”
Neither did James.
“When he spoke, his first word was a very common one,” says Ann smiling at the memory.
“Seemingly, it is usual for people to utter the word ‘water’ when they are able to speak again. He couldn’t think of the right word when he wanted something. He’d search for a word like water, and ask for ‘the stuff that comes out of a tap’.”
What did Ann tell her son and daughter?
“I told them, what will be, will be. We can’t change what happened, only go with it.”
Over the following five weeks, James regained his ability to eat and to swallow. His speech improved and he was able to stand with the aid of a mobility stander.
James edged his way nearer to home.
When he was admitted to the Rehabilitation Unit at Bantry General Hospital, he underwent an intensive rehab programme which continued until the end of July, when he was transferred to the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire.
“He made the greatest progress in Bantry,” says Ann. “The physio, the occupational therapy, the speech and language therapy, all helped him to progress.
“Dr Brian Carey and his nursing team are brilliant.
“When James went to Dun Laoghaire, he enjoyed the hydro-pool there and the social aspect. There were events for people who had suffered brain and spinal injuries. He felt he wasn’t alone.”
And his spirit was alive and well.
“When I used to visit him, he’d point out somebody else, and he’d laugh and say to me ‘Look at them, Ann. They are much worse than me’!”
Ann says that James’s attitude is half the healing.
“When another patient in CUH was sending out for nuggets and chips when he got better, James got some ice-cream. He told me now he could swallow. The speech and language therapist wasn’t aware he was eating ice-cream. ‘But don’t tell Sally,’ he said.”
On October 20 last year, James returned to rehab at Bantry.
All the while, his community were bereaving away in the background, putting events in place to raise funds to bring their man home.
“James is unable to get up the stairs to the bathroom or the bedroom,” says Gary. “The stairs cannot be modified to accommodate a stair-lift. So the house has to be modified to meet his needs. Everyone is rowing in to make it happen — to make the dream come true.”
Ann has great hopes.
“They are aiming for Christmas,” says Ann. “But I feel James will be home for May. Then, we should have the bedroom and the wet-room sorted.”
Has she a quiet house without her husband?
“A bit,” she says. “But James makes up for it when he comes back at the weekends. We’ve temporary accommodation for him down the road near our house.”
He got a great welcome back.
“Our dog, Molly pawed James for the first time since the accident,” says Ann. “It was like she recognised him again and thought; now I can poke him again. James was delighted.”
The dream to come home is becoming a reality, thanks to all the Trojan efforts of James’s loved ones. What will life be like for him?
“He’ll never work again,” says Ann, sadly. “He just wants to be independent. You never know. The smallest bleed to his brain could be fatal. He is at risk of stroke and chest infections. The brain-injury is life-changing.
“The bones will mend. Some days his mobility is good, other days not so good. His left side is weak and fatigue is a big problem.”
Together, the couple will face the future.
“I don’t care how he is,” says Ann. “If he’s non-verbal, or tube fed, it doesn’t faze me.”
James is still smiling. “Yes, he is,” says Ann. “I just want him home.”
Ann would like to thank Dr Shaughnessy. Mary O’Neill and Dr Hallahan who attended James on the day of his accident, and also his employers, Gundry Swan Nets,
* ON Friday, April 6, a group of cyclists will depart Skibbereen by bus at 6am, arriving in Dunmore East, joined by cyclists and members of the Coast guard Helicopter, RNLI, and the Civil Defence. The group will begin a 140k journey back to Cork via the Greenway Dungarvan, Youghal and Cork.
Day 2, Saturday, April 7, begins in Cork city. Cyclists are invited to join in any stage to finish in James’s home place of Union Hall, approximately 69k. You can join in at Cork, Bandon, Roscarberry or Leap, cycle part of the route or incorporate into a Saturday cycle. Tea, sandwiches and showers available at Union Hall.
* See facebook page: Bring James Deasy Home. Contact: Haulie Hurley:086-2532977. Anthony Walsh: 086-2513305. Terry Minihane: 087-3202073.