Making Headway after a brain injury

Evening Echo reporter Sarah Horgan meets Michael Noonan, a brain injury survivor who will oversee the construction of a new facility to help others on their rehabilitation journeys
Making Headway after a brain injury
Alana Noonan and her husband Michael at their home in Midleton, Co Cork. Michael is now receiving the support from Headway after a cycling accident in which Michael was seriously injured Picture Dan Linehan

A FORMER project manager who miraculously escaped death will oversee the construction of a €500,000 brain injury facility as part of his rehabilitation.

Michael Noonan, a brain injury survivor and service user of Headway in Carrigrohane, was overseeing the construction of a €600m pharmaceutical plant before a horrific cycling accident left him seriously injured.

It was initially believed he would die from the trauma, which included a broken back and neck and severe head injuries, but Michael battled on and is making an impressive recovery.

The former GE Healthcare project director is now looking forward to volunteering as a project manager on the construction of Headway’s proposed €.5m facility that will cater for hundreds of brain injury survivors like him.

“I’ll be volunteering as a project manager with the support of a full brain injury team who know my skillset and the limitations of my brain injury,” he said.

The Midleton local is highlighting his story as part of a campaign to raise much-needed funds for the new rehabilitation centre, set to be relocated at Carrigrohane Road.

He has arranged to meet with an architect next week to discuss plans for its construction and start date.

“Before my accident, I was working as a project director on the construction of a pharmaceutical plant in Ringaskiddy with an investment of €600 million,” he said.

“There were a thousand construction jobs generated from the project and I was responsible for making it all happen. Myself and my wife Allana had bought a beautiful house on the seafront and were engaged to be married. All I could think was ‘it couldn’t get any better than this’.

“That was just two weeks before the accident.”

It was on a leisurely bike ride in August of 2017 that Michael’s life changed forever.

Despite having video footage of what happened forensics are still unable to determine the cause of the mysterious accident.

“There were no animal or puncture marks. All you can see is me suddenly hitting the ground,” Michael said.

“Forensic experts took the video for two weeks but to this day nobody has ever been able to explain it and it’s unlikely we will ever know what happened that day.”

He cast his mind back to the accident.

“I was an avid cyclist and had been cycling for 20 years. It was a beautiful sunny day.

“I have no memory of coming down that hill at 50kms per hour but I happened to be passing a house with a camera on its front gate. The back wheel of the bike lifted without explanation.

“I broke my neck and back in two places. My face was dragged along the ground at 50kms per hour. Paramedics said I wouldn’t survive so Gardai were called to rush to my next of kin and bring them to me before I passed away.”

While Michael has no memory of that day his then fiancé Allana Brown can recall it with vivid clarity.

“I was on the phone booking our wedding photographer when I heard a bang on the door,” Allana said.

“When I opened it there were two Gardaí standing there. The first thing I asked was ‘is Michael dead?’

“They explained that they didn’t know. Michael had been in an accident and we needed to get to the hospital straight away.

“The siren went on and off we went.

“I had been on the phone to Michael just an hour before that and couldn’t believe that life had changed so much in that space of time.

“I was told to call the family and get them to the hospital as quickly as possible.”

The extent of Michael’s head injuries were so horrific there was a strong possibility he might be left brain dead.

“When I arrived I was told that Michael had a number of contusions on the brain and the next 48 hours would be critical.”

It was some days later before Michael was conscious again.

He was placed in an induced coma before waking up with post-trauma amnesia.

“Michael woke up not knowing his own name or what had happened to him.

“He didn’t eat or sleep and had basically lost his mind. He still had a lot of the dirt and gravel on his face. They weren’t able to do a deep clean as they feared it might aggravate the brain.”

Michael had a long recovery ahead.

“Michael’s brain injury made him unaware of what was happening. I was living his reality.

“The nurse explained that there was a lot of rewiring of the brain to be done.

“She asked me when I was getting married and I told her August 2018. It shocked me when she said that Michael ‘might just about be okay’ as the wedding was a whole year away at the time.

“I was told to get plenty of rest as I was going to be Michael’s carer.

“They advised me that it was not going to be a sprint but a marathon.”

Post-traumatic amnesia was just one of the effects of Michael’s accident.

“He suffered with post-traumatic amnesia at the start. His perception of reality had become skewed.

“In his mind, he was 25 years old and living in the South of France. He might read an article in the newspaper and believe that was his own reality. In one bizarre conversation, he told me that the hospital was for sale.”

Now, after his miraculous recovery, Michael describes the new lease of life Headway’s upcoming construction project has given him.

“I’ll never be working for a multinational at the level I was working at but this is something I could take on even with my brain injury,” he said.

“Before my brain injury, I was on a senior team that had corporate responsibility. Every year we chose a charity that would benefit from funds. In all that time I had never heard of Headway.

“Now, I’m dependent on them. The charity are way above what they get credit for.”

He emphasised the role Headway has made in his recovery.

“Depression is one of the major things that comes with a brain injury.

“I was in group sessions for a long time. It was great to be put in a setting with other people with brain injuries because I didn’t have to explain myself.

“No matter what question I asked, Headway had heard it a thousand times before. Looking back, I don’t know what I would have done without them. Before I had no appreciation of the kind of work they do in Headway.”

Michael will balance the project with upcoming medical appointments including further reconstruction surgery on his face.

“He had no nose after the accident,” Allana said.

“It had gone right down to the cartilage. It had to be restructured using part of his cheek.”

In spite of their ordeal, the pair still managed to wed last August.

“We thought my nose would be fully fixed in time for the wedding, but unfortunately it didn’t happen that way. The photographer had to take me from the one side,” he joked.

Michael and Allana highlighted their story as part of Headway’s Cork Capital Appeal.

Creators of the initiative are calling on the public to support them in raising funds to make their dream of a new state of the art brain injury facility a reality.

Contributors can also get their workplaces involved by hosting an event.

For more information on how to donate visit or call 1800 400 478

Evening Echo reporter Sarah Horgan meets Michael Noonan, a brain injury survivor who will oversee the construction of a new facility to help others on their rehabilitation journeys

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