Local woman ‘happy to be alive’ after near-fatal farm accident

Jane Johnston pictured at her home. Photo: Michelle Ghee. www.gphotos.ie
It was a typical Sunday morning in the Johnston household in Shroid on September 22, 2013.

It was a typical Sunday morning in the Johnston household in Shroid on September 22, 2013.

The sun was shining and the family were busily preparing for the day’s work ahead on the farm.

Derek and his son Sam were out mowing the land, while Derek’s wife Jane was at home preparing refreshments to take over to them. However, little did Jane realise as she went about her business that morning, that within a couple of hours she would be fighting for her life in St James’ Hospital in Dublin.

The Leader spoke to Jane last week about an accident that occurred later that day after she arrived in the field her husband and son were mowing, a farm accident that left her fighting for her life for weeks afterwards.

Sitting in her beautiful kitchen, she recalled how after arriving with the tea and refreshments, she crossed the field in front of one of the tractors, believing her husband had disembarked. However, Derek had quickly gotten back up and was operating the machinery when Jane was struck by the mower. One side of her buttock was cut off and she suffered a broken neck, however it was weeks later before she realised the extent of her injuries.

“I hadn’t realised that Derek had gotten back up on the tractor and all of a sudden the mower hit me from behind and knocked me to the ground,” added Jane. “I got it on my butt and I was bleeding heavily, but I was conscious and aware of what was going on.”

Within a short period of time two ambulances arrived, including the air ambulance; along with the fire brigade from nearby Edgeworthstown and the gardaí. Her husband and son, who were by now in complete shock, were endeavouring to keep Jane calm while ambulance crews worked quickly to remove her to hospital.

“The air ambulance took me off to St James’ Hospital and when I arrived there, I underwent a six and a half hour operation,” she said. “I was fine after that, but I had a pain in my neck, so I had an x-ray and that revealed that my neck was actually broken.”

Within a short period of time Jane contracted pneumonia and underwent a tracheostomy - a surgical procedure where the surgeon creates an opening in the neck at the front of the windpipe. Thereafter, she spent five days in intensive care. She didn’t know at the time, but her two sons, Robert and Sam - who had asked to work from the Dublin office of his place of work in London while his mother was ill - her daughter Louise and her husband had been told by doctors that they were unsure if Jane would survive the ordeal.

Thankfully, Jane recovered and she was then transferred to the Mater Hospital to have a brace secured to assist in the healing of her neck. She would later affectionately term the brace, “my halo”. Thereafter she underwent an ileostomy which is a surgical procedure that involves removing the whole of the large intestine or colon and sometimes the rectum.

“Because I was injured so close to my rectum, the doctors had to ensure that I did not contract an infection so that is why I had an ileostomy,” she added. “I had a skin graft then; they took skin from my leg to put on my bottom and I was transferred to Mullingar where I remained for three weeks. Then I spent two weeks recuperating in Laurel Lodge. The week before Christmas last year, I got ‘the halo’ removed and I was fitted with a collar, and then at Easter time, I had the ileostomy reversed.”

Jane spent a total of 12 weeks in hospital after the accident and when she looks back now on her ordeal, she realises that she had no idea at the time how ill she had been.

“I never realised how badly injured I was. I was healthy before the accident and so I believed I would get through it. The only problem I have now is that I suffer from a stiff neck, that is all.”

Sitting chatting to Jane, her positive and warm outlook on life is evident. Perhaps, I ask, this was a factor in her recovery? “I am a very positive person,” she smiled, “and I think yes it was my attitude that got me through it all”.

“When I was in James’ Hospital, the people around me were so ill and I remember thinking to myself, I’m not as ill as these people are, I’ll be going home soon.”

In recent months, there has been a huge focus on farm safety as there has been an increase in farm deaths over the past 12 months. And while Jane Johnston appreciates that she is one of the lucky ones, so many others have not lived to tell the tale. So far this year, there have been 20 deaths on farms - more than the total figure for the whole of last year and this includes the deaths of three children. “If I could give just one piece of advice in relation to farm safety it would be this: never walk in front of a running machinery,” Jane advised. “It’s is too dangerous and a huge risk to take.”

Meanwhile Jane’s ordeal last year impacted upon the whole Johnston family. Her husband Derek was particularly shaken, but family life is returning to normal at the Johnston home and Jane’s determination to enjoy her life is to the fore.

“I meet my friends for lunch regularly and I have great friends in the ICA as well,” she added. “At this point in time, I am very happy to be alive.”