NORTHSIDERS pulled together to offer a courageous amputee the gift of a lifetime, just months after the loss of his beloved wife.
Seán O’Leary, from Ballyvolane, had been striving to fulfill the dying wish of his wife, Rose, to stay healthy and be a positive example for their sons, Kyle and Sean.
However, the prosthetic leg Sean had been using to exercise was unsuitable and left him in immense pain.
This spurred a local gym, SBG Cork, where Seán trains, to start a GoFundMe for a prosthetic limb specially designed for exercise. Seán is now preparing to participate in a triathlon with the gym, as a tribute to those who donated. More than €10,000 was raised for Seán, the remainder of which will go towards repair and maintenance of the prosthetic.
The 51-year-old lost his right leg to a bone disease, known as chronic osteomyelitis, in 2018.
Just two years later, he also lost his wife.
Seán explained that Rose died last October, 14 months after a cancer diagnosis.
“I was 21 stone, so you can just imagine all the weight pressing down on the prosthetic,” Sean said of life before exercise.
“Before my wife died, she asked that I make a commitment to get healthy and look after the boys,” Seán said.
“That’s been an incentive for me to push myself. Rose was diagnosed with cancer 14 months before she passed away. She pushed me to stay healthy and that’s my motivation. It’s very easy to say no to these things and think that life is too tough. However, I just think of her and it helps me keep going.”
Seán recalled the day life changed for his family.
“Before Rose was diagnosed, she was driving me to all of my appointments,” Seán said. “She was eating properly and hadn’t shown any signs of poor health, until one day she was getting into the car and cracked a rib.
“We thought it was because she had bent down in an awkward way. What we didn’t realise was that it was the cancer breaking down her bones.”
Despite Rose’s grim diagnosis, Seán spoke of how Rose continued to look after them.
“She was a rock-solid person, who guided us through, and was the pillar holding our family together,” Seán said.
“Even though she was dying, she did nothing but worry about me. She wanted me to be healthy and strong for our sons.”
Rose passed away four weeks after the couple renewed their wedding vows.
“Planning took our minds off the reality of our situation and we were able to have a fantastic day,” Seán said. “We made the best of it. She looked so strong that day, but went downhill so fast after that.”
Rather than wallow in grief, Seán threw himself into exercising, after joining SBG Cork.
“They took me on and helped and pushed me like they would any ordinary person. This was as much a learning process for them as it was for me. The gym has done so much for me.”
Seán described the challenges of using the original prosthetic limb.
“I had a basic prosthetic that was only for walking,” Seán said. “It caused me a lot of problems, but I just had to stick with it. I started doing the training, because I didn’t have an option but to keep going. My hip and knee tend to seize up now.
“They aren’t a fraction as good as what they are on my other leg, but there are always going to be challenges.
“I have no regrets about the surgery. If I hadn’t had the amputation, I don’t think I would be where I am today.”
Seán said that exercising has been extremely beneficial to his mental health, too.
“I can’t afford the time to think,” Seán said. ”My mindset has changed completely. I want challenges all the time. My goal is to become a personal trainer, with a focus on people with disabilities.
“I want to show people that no matter what they have overcome — whether that’s a stroke, illness, or an amputation — they can still achieve so much in life.”
Seán extended his gratitude to the community for giving him what he described as a second chance.
“I’d like to thank everyone who donated toward the new prosthetic, including Colin Tobin, who gave a significant amount and is extremely generous,” Sean said.