For many of us, finding ourselves paralysed from the chest down would be a terrifying matter.
But for one south Longford man in that situation, hope, and a determination to find some form of independence helped him to survive after a life-changing car crash.
Five years ago, on Friday, August 28, 2009 at approximately 6am, 44-year-old Carrickedmond electrician Joe McCormack was driving on the M4 towards Dublin Airport to work at Terminal 2, when a young male driver crossed in front of him and ploughed into his van, flipping it several times.
Joe was cut out of the vehicle and subsequently taken to the Midlands Regional Hospital, Mullingar and from there, just hours later, transferred to the Mater Hospital in Dublin, where he underwent surgery. However, his spine had been crushed in the accident, paralysing him from the chest down.
He was transferred to the National Rehabilitation Institute six weeks later and eventually came home on March 16, 2010, where on the advice of Victor Connell that Joe could learn to drive again, the injured man regained some much-valued hope for his future.
“When Victor spoke to me about being able to drive and be independently mobile, I hadn’t even considered it at that stage but that’s what gave me hope, that I could regain some sort of independence,” Joe told the Leader.
“I have no memory of the accident at all, or even of the two days leading up to it so I didn’t have a fear of driving on the road again, which probably helped.”
Joe and his wife Shirley live in south Longford with three school-going children, so being able to drive was a necessity. Finding the most suitable vehicle for Joe became a priority.
The first car the couple had was from Donal Murtagh Cars in Athlone. Shirley used this to drive Joe around as a passenger in, while looking out for a more suitable vehicle.
Soon after, the McCormacks found exactly what they were looking for at the Access and Mobility Exhibition in City West.
“Joe’s motorised wheelchair is quite big so we needed a vehicle that had a large high-ceilinged interior and a ramp access that would not only fit Joe’s wheelchair, but also have room for the children,” added Shirley. “At the Motability stand, we spotted an adapted Volkswagen Caravelle which we knew immediately would be suitable to our needs.”
That September the van was purchased and life took on new beginnings for Joe. Once the vehicle was adapted accordingly, Joe began driving lessons with Barry Reid, a driving instructor with the Irish Wheelchair Association who also liaised with Motability about the changes that Joe would need.
“The VW van is adapted specifically to my requirements and Barry’s help was invaluable in making sure that all the right levers and other necessary equipment were in exactly the right place for me,” continued Joe,
“At one point, we noticed that my hand kept slipping off the brake and accelerator lever so Motability was able to construct something that would prevent that. In the beginning while learning to drive, my arm would have been absolutely wrecked after an hour so it was a building up process. But Barry was great and with everyone’s encouragement I soon got the confidence to drive myself in the Irish Wheelchair Association’s annual Car Rally in September 2011, only a month after my first solo and we’ve taken part several times since then.”
A passionate GAA supporter, Joe played for Longford at minor level and for his club - Carrickedmond GAA at intermediate and senior level. He is currently a selector for the Junior squad and attends training sessions as well as all the club matches. He also shares the family’s driving duties!
“Regaining my mobility has been a lifeline for me personally,” he added. “It has brought me a huge amount of independence and improved my quality of life. We always have a packed schedule of after school, evening and weekend activities and I’m involved the whole way which is a huge boost on so many levels for me.
“I would definitely recommend that anyone who has lost their mobility, or may be in danger of doing so, to go to the Disabled Drivers Motorshow in the RDS in October. It’s free entry for visitors and you are bound to get a lot of practical advice and tips that would help your own situation.”
The Disabled Drivers Motorshow and Conference organised by the Disabled Drivers Association of Ireland takes place on Friday and Saturday, October 3 and 4 at the RDS Dublin. Entry is free and for more details log onto www.ddai.ie.