Building a Better Health Service


Preparing for Malala

Five years ago, Martin Quinn suffered a stroke live on radio, an event that continues to have a profound impact on his life.

And it is a ‘seismic event’ which he will forever associate with Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, who he credited with inspiring his amazing recovery.

Martin, now 58, worked as an assistant supervisor on a community employment scheme at the time. He was also secretary of Tipperary Peace Convention, and he and the committee were working hard to prepare for Malala’s arrival, when she would be awarded the Tipperary International Peace Award.

“It was while I was commencing a radio interview on Tipperary Mid-West Radio about Malala that I suffered the stroke and which left me unable to answer the interviewers questions in a coherent manner and may have given the impression to listeners that I was 'inebriated', even though it was just 10am in the morning. The interview was cut short and I went home alone and unwell and unsure of what was happening to me. Though many had heard the interview and knew that something was amiss still no one contacted me and it was the following day before I was admitted to hospital after my condition had deteriorated and I was unable to speak or stand unaided.”

He revealed he was inspired by Malala's courage, conviction and determination, particularly in the wake of his stroke. Malala was left for dead after having been shot in the head by the Taliban and was recovering from the attack in hospital in England.

“Her recovery proved to be an inspiration to me in my fight to regain my speech and my independence. I became more determined when a well-meaning visitor to my hospital bed remarked that I would be unable to deliver a speech for the presentation of the Tipperary International Peace Award to Malala. I vowed to myself that day that I would deliver the speech when Malala came to Tipperary.”

And so, in August of that year, Malala did arrive in Tipperary with her father Ziauddin. Martin had been recovering well and had worked very hard with the Speech and Language Therapist, Yolane, to ensure that he could deliver the speech.

He did, however, have to deal with an obstacle when his consultant at Cork University Hospital told him that he needed to be admitted immediately for further tests.

“I refused to be admitted explaining to the consultant that I had a very important visitor arriving and I had a speech to deliver! So my admission was put back until my visitor had returned home,” he explained.

His colleague John told Malala and her father about Martin’s stroke and his recovery.

“Myself and Malala compared notes about learning to speak again. She had lost her speech and her hearing following the shooting. Later that day I stood on stage and delivered a speech without fault in the presence of Malala, her dad and hundreds of people,” he said.

“I had come a long way since the stroke seven months previously and, while I was overjoyed at achieving that milestone, I was blown away listening to Malala deliver an inspiring address. I knew I was in the presence of a remarkable young person who would one day go on to leave a major mark on world history. I was honoured to be in her presence and delighted that she inspired me on the road to my recovery.”

He admitted that life after his stroke will never be the same again, saying the transition from working to retirement was particularly difficult.

“My recovery was going to take time and, perhaps too quickly, I returned to work. However I struggled greatly with cognitive, concentration and memory issues along with terrible fatigue. I eventually, in consultation with my GP and consultant, had to retire on health grounds. It is a very difficult transition to go from working to retirement - physically, mentally and financially - but I knew that I was no longer able to continue working.”

He has kept himself occupied in a wide range of community work which gives him great satisfaction.

“Some of it can be stressful at times but I try to manage it as best I can. I am also working on a book about my life, my love of community and the organisations that I am involved in and on stroke and recovery. The students of St Ailbe’s School in Tipperary Town have been assisting me with interviewing and recording.”

Martin is full of praise for the great support available to stroke survivors.

“Life after stroke is never the same and certainly not easy but there is great support out there with a network of stroke survivor groups around the country and a new national United for Stroke Irish Heart Foundation group for the younger stroke survivors. These are all invaluable for those of dealing with after stroke issues,” he said.

“There is an Aphysia Support Group in Tipperary which I have found to be of great help. The group is supported by the Speech and Language Therapists, who are wonderful. We meet monthly in Clonmel and it is great to meet up with others (and their carers) who are in a similar situation. They are great support for anyone whose speech has been affected by stroke or other brain injuries.

“When I lost my speech, I was determined to regain it and I did. We can all inspire each other on the road to recovery just like how I was inspired by Malala. So, on the five-anniversary of my stroke, I still have to deal with post stroke issues but I am grateful for the inspiration of Malala and for the support of my family and of so many friends and colleagues.”