Jacks Story

My name is Jack Kavanagh.  I'm 21, I'm a pharmacy student, a windsurfing fanatic, a fluent Irish speaker, and a bit of a talker.  Having spent the summer of 2012 working as a windsurfing instructor and lifeguard in "Uisce", the Irish language water sport centre in Belmullet, myself and 8 friends travelled to Albufeira in Portugal for a week's holiday before starting our second year of college. On the first day, the 31st August 2012, I ran down to the sea (for the umpteenth time that summer, and that afternoon) and dived into an oncoming wave. In that moment my life changed - I broke my neck.  

As I dived, I remember feeling my arms being ripped back  and  my head hitting the sand sharply. My body went limp and I floated to the surface but I was face down in the water. I knew I was in trouble but my water sports training told me to stay calm. The waves  washed me into shallow water but I couldn't move and was close to blackout. In the lapping of the waves my head rolled sideways and close by I was able to see one of my friends. He had initially thought I was fooling, but my eyes must have sent the emergency message, as he grabbed me and carried me out of the water to safety.

In the drama that ensued I was airlifted to Lisbon that night and spent two weeks there in intensive care. Still needing a respirator, I was then flown home by air-ambulance and spent 4 weeks in the Mater Hospital Spinal Unit, where I managed relearn to breathe unaided. From there I was transferred to the National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH).

I've not lost my talking skills, but I won't be windsurfing again, and completing my degree and building a life is going to take enormous work and a lot of support. I have what is defined in medicine as a C4 /C5 injury, which refers to the vertebrae number  where the spinal damage occurred. It means that I have no feeling below my upper chest and have limited use of my arms and wrists. 

I've been told it will "be difficult" to go back to college;  I'm going to do it, even if it takes years.                      In the Gym

They tell me I'm "not likely" to be able to transfer myself from my bed to my wheelchair, or from my wheelchair to a car, without assistance; I think I will - and intend to do everything I possibly can to engineer that freedom for myself.

I've been told I'll never walk again;  I'm going to try to confound that prognosis.

I want to create as normal a life for myself as I possibly can, but that's going to take enormous effort, a long time, and a lot of physical, moral and financial support.

My OT tells me I am defying the norms for the severity of injury I have suffered - I intend to continue to defy those norms. One of the people I've met here in the NRH is still achieving incremental steps in improving his independence 12 years after his accident.

With your help I will do the same.

Jack Kavanagh                                                                         

National Rehabilitation Hospital

March 2013

   Download information leaflet here