Invite to talk
A chance encounter on Dun Laoghaire pier brought one of the HSE’s most popular figures to the national airways recently.
Gráinne Leach, Chief Officer of the National Haemophilia Council and a member of the staff engagement forum, happened to meet RTE TV and radio presenter Ryan Tubridy while out walking. The pair got chatting and Ryan invited Gráinne on his morning radio show to share her amazing story.
Accident ends sports career
An accident exactly 33 years to the day before their meeting, when Gráinne was just 22 and a talented basketball player, left her with a fractured pelvis and a broken shoulder and leg, amongst many other injuries, but most significantly, it shattered her arm beneath the elbow.
She explained that life was great and she was having lots of fun playing her beloved basketball. She was playing for St Louis, having previously lined out for Meteors. Basketball, she said, was her drug.
“I was really good at it and I loved it. The day before the accident, I had been at a tournament in Killarney and had a great weekend. We came back on the Sunday night and went to a disco in town, as you do when you are 22. We were all off work on the Monday so we decided to go to Brittas for a day trip,” said Gráinne.
“I got up that morning, all excited about brilliant weather and chilling out with my friends. I went out to get a few bits to go to the beach and I borrowed a bike from the house and went down the road. I pulled the brakes at the bottom of the road but, unknown to me, they were broken so I shot in under a bus.
“I don’t remember the impact of the bus hitting me but I remember when everything stopped. I was in under the bus, everything splattered. But I didn’t realise what it was because I was in shock. But the thing that saved my life was that I was so fit.
The bus man had to reverse off my arm so it was pretty traumatic. I very visually remember it, but don’t remember pain – I was in shock.
I remember people talking to me, amazing people."
Gráinne’s naturally positive disposition helped her cope in the initial aftermath of losing her arm, and she continued to go out with friends and live a life as close as possible to the one she had before the accident, but she says she was only really dulling the pain and the grief with activity and distraction.
After the first of her four children was born 23 years ago, Gráinne suffered from postnatal depression and things came to a head. “I had let it go too long,” she said she now realises. “It was the mental tiredness of putting on the brave face when really deep down I was sad about losing my arm.
“I have an amazing husband and four amazing kids - Mark, David, Sarah and Jack. It really only hit me about a year and a half after I gave birth to my first, Mark, 23 years ago, and postnatal depression compounded it.
Journey of change
“I got really really sick in the Beaumont where I worked. I was hospitalised there for three weeks with really bad headaches and got Bell’s Palsy while there. I thought I was having a brain haemorrhage,” she revealed.
She knew something had to change and embarked on a journey of personal development and counselling.
“I had to do it for myself and for my children. I didn’t want my children growing up with a sad mum for the rest of their lives.
I wanted them to grow up confident, being able to go out into the world and feeling that they can do anything. I hope that’s my legacy to them.”
While Gráinne has come through the other side of adversity, it certainly hasn’t been an easy ride and despite valiant efforts, she wasn’t able to find her way back to the basketball court.
However, she has channelled her love of sport into many other areas instead, taking an active role in her children’s sporting endeavours, working for the IRFU and managing the Irish Under 18s Ladies Touch Rugby Team, who competed recently in the European Touch Rugby Championships at DCU.
“My girlfriends were great. I tried to practice with them, tried to get back playing again but I just couldn’t. Then the kids got involved in sport and it got me back mixing back with sport again, feeling feel engaged and part of it again. I met people who were involved with touch rugby, did some event management – while doing my personal development at same time, and volunteered part time with IRFU. I have a huge love of sport, it’s always been part of my life, and it has always helped me cope with anything life can throw at me,” added Gráinne.