THIS month marks 20 years since an innocuous fall, playing sport, resulted in Cork man Aidan Con O’Sullivan being confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
The Adrigole native is remarkably philosophical about the dramatic alteration of the course of his life. “It is a milestone,” Aidan said. “The years have flown by. I don’t dwell on many things. They are there, but I can park them in my head and close the door.”
Aidan, who recently turned 45, was living and working in Cork City at the time of the injury. He played for his beloved Adrigole GAA Club and participated in a training session that fateful evening, with the Douglas footballers, to ‘clear his head’, following the death that morning of a friend.
Aidan can still vividly remember the moment his life changed, when he broke his neck and shattered the fifth vertebrae, which damaged the spinal cord.
“I decided to go playing football, as a means of a distraction,” Aidan said. “I gathered a loose ball and I was just running towards the goal. I don’t know if I tripped myself up, but I came down on top of my head like I had done a million times previously playing football.”
The Beara man instantly knew that something was seriously wrong: He couldn’t move anything.
“I remember it vividly,” Aidan said.
“It was tranquil and it felt as if I was just drifting off, like a white cloud. I was lying down, unable to move. I had no pain. An ambulance came onto the pitch and brought me to the CUH.
"I was rushed to the theatre for surgery, which went well. As time went on, I got some pain and discomfort. I was frightened and extremely worried. After a week, I was ready to be moved to Dún Laoghaire National Rehabilitation Hospital. Coincidentally, I was brought up by helicopter and the pilot was my friend, Michael Seer O’Sullivan, from Bere Island. We won an All-Ireland school medal together in 1994.”
Aidan’s initial experience in Dún Laoghaire NRH was tough and he experienced a lot of discomfort. “I was in bed for a few weeks, in a bad way,” Aidan said. “I had a lot of pipes and tubes coming out of me. I saw people of all ages after car accidents. I was very confused, as I didn’t know what was going on. My neurologist, Martin Walsh, decided we would do an MRI in Blackrock Clinic. He discovered that I also had a slipped disc. I had a neck brace on and they had to put my head in a cast. It was tough. I couldn’t look left or right. They couldn’t take the chance that the disc would slip any more, as it would do more harm.”
Aidan had another setback when he got an abscess in his throat. “I developed a sore throat, which progressively got worse,” Aidan said. “I was rushed to the Mater for surgery. A massive abscess was after developing in my throat and it was dripping blood into my stomach. That was very scary. I was told that if it had gone another route, I could have lost my voice. I was confined to bed for the following four months, in a lot of pain.
“When the abscess was cleared up, I was brought to Beaumont for surgery on the slipped disc. I had that operation in early 2002. It went very well and I did get a bit of improvement in my arms. Overall, I had two surgeries during my time in Dún Laoghaire. 18 months is a very long time to be in Dún Laoghaire. People are generally there between four and 12 months. The treatment was outstanding. It is intense, but the care is so good,” he added.
The popular Beara man also had some VIP guests in Dún Laoghaire, while he also attended sporting events in the capital. “When I got better in Dún Laoghaire, I couldn’t come down to Adrigole every weekend, for logistical reasons,” Aidan said. “A big help to me was the Dublin GAA chief executive, John Costello, whose wife is from Adrigole. He brought me to various sports games, which was a huge boost. Roy Keane and Steve Staunton also visited me. I still have a jersey from Roy Keane. The then taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, visited and he wrote me a lovely letter. I finally reached a stage where they couldn’t do any more for me, so I came home in October 2002.”
Aidan radiates positivity. He credits his family for their “amazing support”. “I did have some down days, but I have great positivity and strength, which comes from my family and friends,” Aidan said.
“My family was amazing. Adrigole GAA, Beara GAA, Cork GAA, Boston GAA, and New York GAA were all so supportive, which meant a lot.
“Two great stalwarts, Tony Carey and Marie Goggin, sadly since deceased, along with other members of Adrigole GAA Club, were so supportive. I got great help from the local community, who held a number of fundraisers. I am fortunate I have great friends.
“My late father visited me practically every weekend, with his cousin, Christy O’Shea, in Dún Laoghaire. There were times I felt sadder for my dad. My mother was killed in a car accident in May 1997. In February 2011, my father passed away suddenly, at the age of 62. He was like a brother to me. My two sisters, Fiona and Karen, along with their husbands, are a huge help.
“I am very positive. I live each day to the full. I never look too far down the road,” he added.
Aidan is back living in his beloved Beara Peninsula. He is loving life in Adrigole, amongst his friends and family in the close community.
“I moved back home in 2013,” Aidan said. “I am active in the community. I follow Adrigole, Beara, and Cork GAA. I am a big Liverpool fan. I watch a lot of sports. I am kept busy. I have various people who call during the day to prepare meals and help with the garden. I am a keen gardener. That keeps me occupied.
“I am back in my native parish, which I love. I am enjoying life. Everything about the place is special.”
Aidan minds himself, exercising regularly and maintaining a strict diet. He harbours no bitterness about that fateful evening on May 1, 2001.
“I look after myself very diligently,” Aidan said. “I eat well and I drink a lot of water. I have an exercise bench and a bike at home, which I do my exercises on.
“I have no bitterness. I have always looked at it this way. I went training that night, doing something I loved. The fact that it happened doing something I loved means the anger isn’t there.”