What it’s like to be hit with a fire­work

Dublin teenager Jamie O’Toole was just 16 when a stray Hal­loween rocket set his legs alight. It nearly killed him

Irish Independent - - People & Features - In con­ver­sa­tion with Chrissie Rus­sell

‘Hal­loween is a real no-no for me now. For the last two years, my fam­ily have just gone out for din­ner — it’s the eas­i­est thing todo.

“I hate the sound of fire­works. If I’m in bed and even hear a few bangs out­side, the sound of it sends me un­der the cov­ers. I hate the sound of them, I just hate them.

“Three years ago, it was dif­fer­ent. It was Hal­loween night 2014 and I was 16 and out mess­ing around with my mates on a golf course near where I live in Hollystown in the Dublin suburbs.

“We thought fire­works were fun and we were play­ing around with them, just the small ones, fir­ing them at each other. Then one guy de­cided to light a big one. I wasn’t re­ally in­ter­ested and I guess I knew some­thing was go­ing to hap­pen, fire­works were fly­ing left, right and cen­tre, so me and two other friends were walk­ing away when I heard my name be­ing called.

“I turned round and this rocket was fly­ing straight at me. The fire­work had been lit on the grass on a bit of a hill and I think they thought it would go up in the air, but it didn’t. All I could do was stare at it, frozen on the spot and then it hit me and ex­ploded.

“I don’t re­ally re­mem­ber ev­ery­thing that hap­pened next. The fire­work hit me at the top of my leg and when I looked down I was on fire.

“I ran scream­ing to­wards the group of guys yelling ‘what did you do to me?’ then I dropped to the ground to roll around and try and put the flames out.

“I could feel my trousers were stuck to me so I pulled them off and saw blood ev­ery­where.

“I knew then that I was in trou­ble. My friends had been laugh­ing a bit, think­ing I was fak­ing it but when they saw the blood they just froze. The run home to my house took me 10 min­utes. I jumped over streams and a high fence on pure adren­a­line with my younger brother try­ing to keep up withme.

“At home, my youngest brother, who was eight at the time, was hav­ing friends over for his first Hal­loween party. My Mam came to the door and just started scream­ing when she saw me.

“I was in St James Hospi­tal for six or seven weeks. The first op­er­a­tion I had was to try and get all the ex­ploded fire­works out of my body — it was like re­mov­ing shrap­nel — and it took nine hours, but they still couldn’t get ev­ery­thing out so had to do a sec­ond one.

“Time stands still in hospi­tal. I woke up af­ter a cou­ple of days but it felt like weeks. My fam­ily or­gan­ised a sched­ule to come in and see me. Every day I had to have an in­jec­tion — some­thing I hated be­cause nee­dles ter­rify me.

“I had to learn to walk again and felt like a baby do­ing it. It was one of those sim­ple things that you just take for granted, but all of a sud­den I was hav­ing to learn again and it wasn’t easy. I did physiotherapy for months but I liked my phys­io­ther­a­pist and we’d have talks and play ta­ble ten­nis.

“The doc­tors and nurses were in­cred­i­ble. Some of the nurses mam­mied me be­cause I was the youngest and some were re­ally strict, but the strict ones got me through as well.

“The doc­tors told me I had third de­gree burns. I didn’t ask for any more in­for­ma­tion, I didn’t want to know. I didn’t look at my legs, I just

When I looked down, I was on fire. I dropped down to the ground to roll around and try and put the flames out

let the doc­tors poke around down there, I didn’t want to see what they were look­ing at be­cause I didn’t know how I would re­act if I did.

“Now, it’s weird, but I don’t re­ally re­mem­ber what my nor­mal legs looked like. They’re both scarred now. I’m still con­tin­u­ing treat­ment and I’ve more lo­tions in my cup­board than my Mam has! When the rocket hit, I lost a bit of my mus­cle tis­sue and that’s not com­ing back, so they had to cover that up and the last op­er­a­tion, which I had just re­cently, was to do with try­ing to get the shape of the leg back. I’ve asked my doc­tor if there’s any­thing else they can do that would make me feel a lit­tle bit nor­mal again and there are a few pro­ce­dures so maybe next year, or the year af­ter that.

“I’ve never felt an­gry about what hap­pened. It hap­pened and I can’t do any­thing about it.

“I wor­ried at first that, at school, peo­ple would be look­ing at me and I’d be ‘the guy that got hit with the fire­work’ but ev­ery­one was ok and ac­tu­ally I’ve no prob­lem talk­ing about what hap­pened.

“Some peo­ple don’t un­der­stand it but I’ve never had a grudge against the guy that lit the rocket ei­ther. In fact, he’s still one of my good friends and his fam­ily have been re­ally good to me.

“It was a com­plete fluke ac­ci­dent and it hap­pened and I can’t do any­thing about it.

“But I’d like to say to any other 16 year olds who are think­ing about mess­ing around with fire­works this Hal­loween — don’t treat them as toys, they’re not toys. They can cause se­ri­ous dam­age and could kill some­one.

“The night I was hit, I was wear­ing a big, thick ski jacket and my phone was in my right pocket, just above where the rocket hit.

“My par­ents brought me that dam­aged phone in when I was in hospi­tal and it was com­pletely bent in half.

“I re­mem­ber look­ing at it, think­ing ‘that could have been my leg’. I threw it away, I didn’t want that thing any­where near me. I don’t need a re­minder.

“My doc­tor, Dr Odhran Shel­ley, con­sul­tant plas­tic and re­con­struc­tive sur­geon at St James’s, told me if the rocket had gone any higher, I would have been dead and any lower, I would have lost my leg be­cause it would have hit my knee.

“Even a mil­lime­tre to the left and I could have lost a very vi­tal or­gan! I dodged death and I guess I feel pretty lucky to have got away as lightly as I did. But I’ll never be around fire­works again.”

Trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence: Jamie O’Toole hates the sound of fire­works af­ter his ac­ci­dent on Hal­loween and (above) in his home. Photo by Frank Mc­Grath

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