AN inspiring Cork woman is determined to return to the frontline following a horrific cycling accident that almost took her life.
Debbie O’Connor was with other members of the Bandon Cycling club in Innishannon when she received injuries so severe they left her life hanging in the balance.
She told The Echo that many of her fellow club members who witnessed the accident had to take a week off work after being disturbed by the scenes of September 30 of 2018. After being rushed to Cork University Hospital, the pharmacist spent three weeks in a coma. It was thought she would not make it in the initial weeks when her parents were told to say their goodbyes.
Unaware of what her body had endured, Debbie awoke and asked the doctor for her car keys so she could return to work. What followed in the months after her injuries was major brain surgery and three months in the National Rehabilitation Centre in Dun Laoghaire. The Cork woman carried on, defying doctors’ odds at every turn.
She endured a double blow after losing her dad, owner of O’Connor’s Pharmacy in Douglas, Tom O’Connor, last January. Still, she refused to give up and is now training to take part in the Cork City Marathon taking place virtually on Sunday, June 6. She is also updating her industry knowledge through the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland so she can fulfill her dream of returning to work soon. She praised her family for reminding her that she “is” and will continue being a pharmacist.
One of the only memories she can recall of being in a coma is of her mum holding her hand.
“They had said a mass for me in Innishannon after the accident because it had been so bad,” she said.
“My mum and dad were told to say their goodbyes to me. What kept me strong I don’t know. Over time, I started remembering little things.”
Previously menial tasks suddenly became overwhelming for Debbie. She recalled her train journey to Dun Laoghaire by way of example.
“To this day I don’t know how I made it up to Dublin on that train,” she said. “At one point I actually burst into tears because I was convinced that I’d got it wrong and the train wasn’t going to Dublin at all.”
She described the level of support from the public when she returned to help out at the family business in the weeks following her recovery.
“One customer who came in hugged me when he saw me. I’m sure he had just come in for toothpaste but he was so relieved after hearing about how sick I had been.”
Nonetheless, Debbie confessed it was frustrating not to be able to return to work in her previous role.
“My dad had always been so happy to have two pharmacists in the family. He was always proud and the accident didn’t change that. When I cried because I was having a bad day and was upset about not being back at work he always told me ‘Deb, you are great’ and ‘of course you will be back to work’.
“Even now I know he’s pushing me and minding me.”
Reflecting on her experiences, Deborah said it was difficult to face up to the reality of her injuries.
“It was in my system that I had to go to work but my mind hadn’t adjusted to what happened to me.”
The Cork woman is hopeful that her time will come soon.
“People have asked me why I won’t consider another job but being a pharmacist is all I’ve ever wanted. I have my name down for the vaccination so I’ll be able to go back when the time comes as I’m still registered with the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland. Recently, my mother and her friend were talking about how really I’m a miracle. It made me stop and think ‘yes, they’re right’.
“I am a miracle. It also made me realise how things really are possible. That’s why I’m so determined to get back to work.”
After having to relearn so much including everyday words and how to drive, Debbie has managed to conquer many of her other goals including running the Dublin Marathon. She is also keen to take part in the Tour De Munster again to raise vital funds for Down Syndrome Cork. Above all though, Debbie said her number one objective is to give others hope.
“I’d like people to see me get back to work and let other people know that they can achieve the same and that anything is possible.”