A cyclist left paralysed in crash launches spinal cord injury blog
SCIENTIST AND IT SLIGO LECTURER GERALDINE LAVELLE FRACTURED HER NECK IN A BICYCLE CRASH. SHE TALKS TO EDITOR JENNY MCCUDDEN ABOUT HER NEW BLOG AND HOW HER LIFE HAS CHANGED
A cyclist left paralysed from the chest down after a collision with a lorry has started a blog about living with a spinal cord injury with the aim of helping others who find themselves in a similar situation.
Geraldine Lavelle who lives in Cheshire Home Sligo - a supported accommodation for people with physical disabilities - believes her new blog will be of great benefit.
“Already, the feedback has been phenomenal,” she says, “With so much traffic directed to the site. I’m really encouraged. It has soared in recent weeks. Nurses have been in touch to say they are showing it to their patients.”
A few years ago 30-year-old Geraldine was a patient with a spinal cord injury and recalls a time of utter confusion and fear.
“I had my accident on 31st October 2013 on the Longford bypass. I remember lying on the side of the road feeling numb,” she says. After being airlifted to hospital she had to undergo major surgery: “I did not realise the impact of my injuries until after the operation. The Consultant came in and said ‘you will never walk again.’ It was so blunt. I started bawling crying. I asked him ‘was he sure because I could walk a day ago?’ I told him he must have ‘ the wrong person.’ ”
Geraldine who lectures at IT Sligo describes the following weeks and months as the hardest of her life: “You are left wondering where do you go from here? You can’t move and you are thinking what will happen to my life now?”
For the next ten months qualified scientist Geraldine who had been working in Abbott, was in rehab. It was during the last few weeks there that her strong will and determination took over.
As she explains: “When they told me I was not going to get any better, that they had done all they possibly could for me, it was hard to accept my limitations. “But I decided that this was not going to be the end for me. I choose not to go back to my parent’s home in the country side outside Castlebar. Instead I opted to go to Sligo and got a place in the Cheshire Home.”
Slowly but surely Geraldine started to adjust to her new way of living. She returned to work in Abbott Sligo but left when a lecturing role came up at IT Sligo.
The blog called spinalcordinjury.ie is something that was always at the back of her mind.
“I would take notes every now and then since this happened. I started a Facebook page first and got 4,000 followers and then launched the blog about three months ago.
“If I put myself back in ICU I did not know where to turn. This website with everything I have learned over the last four years is accessible to people at the click of a button. I hope that this can help people starting out on that journey.”
A remarkably positive person Geraldine credits her family, friends and the wider community who fundraised on her behalf for her recovery.
“I’m blessed with the support
WHEN YOU SEE THE LOVE IN PEOPLE’S EYES, IT TELLS YOU THAT THEYARE JUST SO HAPPY THAT YOU ARE STILL HERE
I have. The people I’m close to helped show me that there is more to life, that I am still here and trying to get on with it,” she explains.
“What other option did I have, stay in bed and cry all day? You do go through that too. But it’s when you see the love in people’s eyes telling you that they are just so happy that you are still here, that’s when you realise that things can get back to a level of normality. Everything is going to be much more challenging but that’s why you surround yourself with people who care,” adds Geraldine.
The NUI Galway graduate admits that the troubles she had before the accident pale into insignificance when it comes to what she has since endured.
“What was I complaining about?” she asks, “I had everything but you always find problems. Now I have much more to complain about and I just get on with it.”
There are certain things that this brave young woman misses about the life she once had. Geraldine says she was a ‘gym bunny’ and loved to exercise.
“I still get out every day and push my chair on a 5k walk down by Riverside and I’m planning to take up swimming. But I do miss going for a run or a cycle. I may not have climbed a lot of mountains but I miss having the option. I might have never done it but I always had the choice,” she says.
Living in Sligo has its benefits for Geraldine who loves the people and the place. However she would like to progress from Cheshire Home to have a place to truly call her own one day.
“The staff are wonderful and it is great to have the support but I would love some privacy and to have my own apartment.”
Access to an Occupational Therapist is also not always easy. “My OT left and has not been replaced and I’m not deemed a priority,” she says.
Despite the drawbacks, Geraldine concludes: “I would love to settle here. The people are lovely, very helpful and friendly. The college has a great atmosphere and is accessible. I like being among academics and people who get the whole geeky science world!”
Geraldine Lavelle pictured last week at Riverside, where she pushes her chair for a daily 5k.
Geraldine (right) at a concert
Geraldine in hospital.