Community rallies around Butlersbridge woman
Despite suffering two separate brain injuries a decade apart, Butlersbridge woman Realtín Donohoe refuses to admits defeat, writes Michael Keaveny.
On the morning of Christmas Eve 2011, she had a headache that affected her eyesight and balance and was taken to Cavan General Hospital. A scan revealed a bleed on the brain and she was sent to Beaumont Hospital where she was diagnosed with an artery vein malformation (AVM), a cluster of veins and arteries. Doctors were unable to operate because the AVM was located at the stem of the brain. However, they put it in a drain.
According to her mother, Nóirín, medics were amazed by her recovery after the diagnosis. “We had never heard of an AVM and were surprised to hear she had it since birth. She was very determined to get better and doctors were amazed when she left Beaumont one month later and was back working within nine months in her job as a chartered accountant, but then decided to become a secondary school teacher and studied in NUIG and taught in schools around Cavan and Meath.”
Nóirín maintains that life was going well for Realtín. She became engaged to her long-term boyfriend Jonathan and they were due to be married in June 2021, having been forced twice to postpone the event due to Covid restrictions.
“She was determined to have her wedding on June 25, 2021, so her grandad who was 99 could attend even though there was just 25 guests allowed,” recalls her mum.
However, tragically the week of the wedding, disaster struck. “On Monday, June 21 Realtín was in great form, she even drove to collect her wedding dress. But in the early hours of Tuesday, she woke up and knew there was something terribly wrong and she was taken by ambulance to Cavan hospital where they stabilised her before sending her by ambulance to Beaumont Hospital. We were advised that, even with an operation, there was only a very slight chance of success but we decided to operate as the only alternative was death,” recalls Nóirín.
The resulting operation took eight hours and 15 minutes during which surgeons had to remove a clot, which had caused a massive brain haemorrhage. Realtín underwent eight further operations over 11 weeks to help stabilise her condition. She was also fitted with a RIG, so she could be fed through a tube. Tragically her grandfather passed away while she was in hospital in August, but Realtín wasn’t fit to be told until the following February.
On discharge, she spent 15 weeks in Monaghan rehabilitation hospital before going to the National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH) in Dun Laoghaire for a further five months. She has been back in Monaghan since June 2022.
The ordeal has had a devastating physical impact on Realtín, says Nóirín.
“Her mind is terrific, thank God but her body is wrecked. She needs the use of a wheelchair all of the time… and needs assistance with ordinary day-to-day tasks. The RIG has been taken out of her stomach but she will always have to be careful while eating or drinking as she could choke. Her eyesight is still not focusing properly… Her left side is weaker than her right side and her speech is also affected. She is in a wheelchair and it looks like she will always need one, as well as needing assistance with everyday tasks, which is very hard on her because she was always so independent.”
A GoFundMe has been set up by friends of Realtín to help cover the cost of ongoing care including physios, speech and language therapy, as well as transport and adjustments to her accommodation.
“It is heartbreaking and unbelievable to see how someone who was so independent can become so dependent on others, but she is very determined. She knows her life is different now, but she is grateful to be still alive and says life can still be good.”
Realtín and her family are thankful to her surgeons and care staff and friends. “On the day she was supposed to get married, the priest in Butlersbridge brought the community together for mass for her. Instead of celebrating her, we were praying for her. She is looking forward to getting back to as near normal life as possible and is planning to try and help others suffering from acquired brain injuries by letting them know it does not mean the end of everything.”
Nóirín says Jonathan has been very good to Realtín throughout the ordeal. “Jonathan is very good to her as well. He said she is still the same person. He visits her in the hospital and on Sundays he takes her to Rossmore Park in Monaghan and they’d get coffee and cake there. On Christmas Day she was allowed out for a few hours. So Jonathan brought her over to his family home. It was absolutely beautiful, but then it was even harder when she was going back again.”
To help, log on to: www.gofundme.com/f/realtin-avm-warrior
So far, they are over a third of the way to their €10,000 target.
Prayers on her wedding day – Anglo Celt
Community rallies around Butlersbridge woman