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Trauma care proves life saving for Waterford teenager

Glyn O’Connor during his stay in the ICU in the Mater Hospital with his dad Alan. Photo courtesy of the Irish Times.

Fifteen-year-old Glyn O’Connor walked back through the doors of his secondary school in Waterford on September 29th, a few weeks after his classmates. But it was a delayed trip that his family thought he would never get to make just three months earlier.

Glyn was on a farm in his native Cappoquin early in the summer when he was involved in a freak accident as he was collecting stones from a field and putting them into a tractor-pulled loader.

“I don’t know the exact happened, but Glyn tripped and fell under the wheels of the loader. They went straight over his body and broke his ribs, pelvis, lower spine and his femur,” explained dad Alan, who added that Glyn’s lungs were also punctured and he was left with horrific internal injuries.

It didn’t look like the youngster was going to live to see the next day, let alone a new school year.

“Everything went right for Glyn after the accident. It is a miracle that he is still with us and starting back at school today. He really is a case study for what the system can achieve when it is working at its best. We could see when Glyn was in the hospital that the system just doesn’t sleep. His care was seamless, from the second he got onto the air ambulance right the way to Cork hospital, up to the Mater and back to Cork again. Everyone was on the same page,” said Alan.

Alan was on the scene of Glyn’s accident in less than three minutes and the youngster was transferred by air ambulance to Cork University Hospital.

“The two medics working on him in the helicopter were just amazing. I could see the panic in their eyes that he was in such a bad state but they jumped through all the hoops working on him and making sure they got him safely to Cork,” he said.

“It would have taken a regular ambulance an hour and a half to get to Cork. Glyn would never have survived that. Any delay at any stage of his care would have been a death sentence for him.”

It didn’t look like Glyn would survive the night but as the hours ticked by, Alan and his partner Treasa started thinking that no news was good news.

“Eventually after midnight on Saturday four doctors came in to see us and explained that they had eased the internal bleeding and wanted to transfer him to the Mater Hospital in Dublin,” he said.

“That Sunday morning before we left for the Mater, the nurses told us that Glyn had stabilised overnight and was holding his own if we wanted to go home for a short period to shower and grab some things.”

He was transferred to Dublin by ambulance where Alan and Treasa were introduced to their trauma team of Keith Synnott and Frank Lyons, who would be operating on Glyn.

“We went into see Glyn in ICU before he went down for his surgery and it was then a case of full COVID PPE. It was a really horrible experience seeing your precious son strapped to all the bleepers and surrounded by this sea of masks and PPE. His face was perfect but we knew he had really bad internal injuries. Dr Lyons reassured us that they had every expert in the hospital on hand to help,” said Alan.

Glyn then had the first of several surgeries, where medics managed to stop the bleeding. The following day, they went back in to fix his pelvis, lower spine and broken femur. After successive operations, his sedation was eased and he began to wake up. Just five days after his horrific accident, Glyn was fully conscious and wiggling his toes.

“It was such a relief to see because we knew then that there wasn’t any permanent damage to the spine,” said his dad. “He remembered everything when he woke up, it was as if he was just asleep for a few hours.”

After three weeks in the ICU and High Dependency Unit in Dublin, he was transferred back closer to the family home to Cork University Hospital.

“Back in Cork I was greeted by one of the trauma nurses, Trish, who said she had worked on Glyn the night he was admitted after the accident. She told me that not one of the team changed shift at 8pm because they were determined to stay with him and keep battling to save him. They were all totally committed,” said Alan.

“I told her that Glyn’s mum, who we lost when he was just two, was looking down on him that night and making sure I didn’t lose him too.”

Glyn’s walk back to school at Blackwater Community School may have been done on crutches, and he will continue to need physiotherapy to help him build back up his muscles, but his family remain grateful to the trauma teams who gave him a second chance at life.

“They are miracle-workers. It is because of them that I have my son back home with me and able to go back to school,” added Alan.