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Eamon Flynn’s story of hope

Sport

HAPPY AT HOME Eamon Flynn is pictured at his home in Shrule.  Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Eamon Flynn from Shrule gained inspiration from the Mayo team in his recovery from a brain injury

Interview
Ger Flanagan

APRIL 12, 2019. It was a glorious Friday evening and Eamon Flynn was giving his final few words of encouragement to his Shrule/Glencorrib minor football team who were playing Westport B away from home in a league fixture.
Suddenly, without warning, he was struck with a sharp pain in the back of his neck, so much so he asked one of the other coaches to take over the pre-game speech. Eamon worked in construction all his life, and was a truck driver in another time, so back trouble was nothing new to him.
His first thought was, ‘a slipped disc’. Far from ideal, but he was going to tough it out. He was a fit and healthy man after all. So he remained on the sideline, encouraging and cajoling his players on but to no avail, as they lost to a better team on the day.
By the time the team bus arrived back in Ballinrobe to Supermac’s he hadn’t the stomach to eat as cold shivers had engulfed his body. He wasn’t even fit to hold down some water, and a trip to Westdoc once he got home had him none the wiser.
He was sent home with the instruction of ‘going straight to A&E if anything changed during the night’. Nothing changed so, after a sound night’s sleep, he got up to ‘do a few jobeens’ around the house.
As he says himself: “All of a sudden, things got hazy and I knew something was wrong.”
From that moment on Eamon Flynn’s life as he knew it was going to change dramatically.
An MRI in Castlebar revealed he had suffered a bleed on the brain (or an ‘AV Fistula in the Pons area of the brain’ to use the exact medical term) and he was rushed to Beaumount Hospital in Dublin.
“I was half hoping I would get a helicopter at that stage,” he laughed to The Mayo News in his home in Shrule recently. He was remaining positive about it all, but oblivious to the fact that over the next year he was going to have to travel a treacherous road.
By the time he’d reach the end, he would have to learn how to walk and talk again.
Eamon was pencilled in for surgery the following Thursday, but by Monday it was looking like he might not make it through the night.
“I rang the brother on Sunday and I had all my bodily functions at that stage,” he said. “I told him that it musn’t be too bad if they’re going to operate on Thursday and there doesn’t seem to be too many fussing around me.
“But things hit the fan on Monday. I got a seizure and, on my life, it was the most comfortable, calming sensation I ever experienced. I could hear people shouting my name and if I was alright, but for the life of me I couldn’t tell them that I was sound. But I started rising out of the bed and floating away, I swear to God.
“I don’t have the words to explain it. There was no light or any of that carry one, and once I got an injection I started coming back to the bed again and when I did, I still felt I was ok, I genuinely thought I was sound.”
Of course it played out much differently to his partner, Angie, a nurse by profession, who was watching it all unfold by his bedside.
Shortly after the seizure a second bleed on the brain was found and Eamon started to lose his speech. A doctor pulled Angie aside shortly after and informed her that he may not make it through the night.
“It was horrific, I thought it was the last night,” she recalled, having had the difficult task of delivering the news to Eamon’s family, most of which arrived to the hospital thinking it was the last time they would see him.
The surgery was brought forward to the following day, but there was no guarantee it was going to be a success.
“I asked him [surgeon] if he could fix it and he looked at me for a few seconds before answering,” Eamon recalled. “It felt like a year and I thought it was lights out for me, but he said, ‘Yes, but it will be tricky’.
“I just said, ‘Go for it’ because I didn’t give a monkey’s ass if they were to cut off my head at that time! It was probably the only time I worried.”

Road to recovery
HIS next memory was lying in bed without any movement or ability to talk.
But the surgery had been a success.
What followed was an arduous few weeks of physiotherapy, during which he temporarily lost his eyesight. When it did eventually come back, he had blurred double vision.
While progress was slow, Eamon received a huge boost two and half weeks later when he was told he was going to be moved to the stroke unit in Galway.
“It was heaven,” he smiled. “And I hate Galway!
“But I was so delighted when I was told by the doctor that it was like Mayo winning the All-Ireland three years-in-a-row, I wanted to jump up and down.”
The trauma had taken its affect on Eamon’s body and his emotional centre, so much that he found himself getting in fits of crying for no particular reason on a regular basis, even though he wasn’t ever particularly sad.
Unbeknownst to him he had also suffered a major stroke due to the brain injury and he had to undergo intensive physio and mobility work to learn how to walk and to regain full bodily functions.
“My co-ordination and everything was totally out the window,” he said. “I remember one physio had me playing balloon tennis, basic stuff, but I couldn’t do it.
“I’d miss the ballon completely and I wasn’t a bad footballer in my day, so this was bizarre to say the least.”
But his determination kept his recovery motoring along and, sooner rather than later, he was moved to the Merlin Park Hospital, where he was working hard to regain his strength.
“Getting the walking stick was real freedom for me,” he explained. “It allowed me to do a lot of exercise myself.
“I would go out to the garden in the hospital and go for a walk, and the next day I’d go that bit further and so on. Never a backwards step. I was involved in sport all my life so I knew I had to help myself outside of the hour of physio every day.”
Six weeks later Eamon reached a major milestone and was allowed home, on a weekend basis first and then permanently. He was given exercises and programmes to work on to regain his mobility and strength, and put his own slant on them.
“I started building a few things,” he laughed. “I could only lay a few blocks at a time and I’d have to take a rest, but I was in the buildings all my life and wanted to keep busy.
“If you saw the first few blocks I laid, they were horrendous!”
But they were major steps on his road to recovery.
He was called back to Beaumount for a check-up in June of last year and they were delighted with his progress. He even managed to attend Mayo’s Connacht championship defeat to Roscommon in MacHale Park that month, a game he was never going to miss.
“Sport definitely helped me through it all,” he said. “It was always about taking small steps to improve, and not worrying about controlling the uncontrollables.
“Mayo football was a big thing for me. Them lads never give up and they had some shit thrown at them over the years, but they always come back.”
A passionate GAA man all his life, getting to line out in a fun St Stephen’s Day match with his friends and former team-mates was another big leap on the road back to his old self, although his skills did need some fine tuning.
“I went from being an ok footballer to not even being able to kick a ball,” he laughed.
Those skills are getting better though and although he is still not fully back to his old self 18 months on, he’s ‘come a long way’.
He was fulsome in his praise for the work of the staff in ‘Adam McConnell’s Ward’ in Beaumount, ‘St Anne’s’ in UHG, ‘Unit 4 Merlin Park’ and the all others who helped him along the way.
He wanted to tell us his story because he’s anxious to let people know there is always hope.
“People would always say to me that I was very lucky, but to me it was water off a duck’s back,” he said. “But it did eventually hit me that Jesus, I was lucky.
“That’s just my story, I’m not trying to put it on anyone else or get any recognition from it. I would just like to think that maybe one person might grasp on to something in my story and it may help them.
“One in four people suffer a brain injury in their lifetime, it’s that common. What I would say to them is to never give up hope.”

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