What was supposed to be a fun boys’ weekend away in upstate New York turned into a tragic one for a 35-year-old Co. Kerry man when an SUV hit him head on, resulting in the loss of his right leg from below the knee.
Ballylongford native P.J. Flavin still finds it difficult to talk about that hot summer day in July. A truck plunged right into the motorcycle he was riding, sending him into the air.
The accident cost him three and a half months in hospital, his leg and his job and now he has to figure out a way to pay six months of medical bills, which to date look to be hitting the million dollar mark.
Flavin, whose wife Elaine is from Co. Louth, spoke to the Irish Voice from his living room on Monday.
The accident happened on Saturday, July 16. Now exactly six months later, Flavin is at a loss on how he is going to come up with the funds to pay the bills that are mounting high on his kitchen table.
Flavin’s friends and family are organizing a fundraiser at the Kerry Hall in Yonkers for Sunday, January 29 to raise some much-needed money to help offset some of the high medical costs facing the Kerry man.
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Flavin remembers the day like it was yesterday. His best friend from Ballylongford, Tony Collins, was moving back to Ireland with his family so the boys wanted one last weekend away together.
Both Collins and Flavin enjoyed riding motorcycles. Flavin, an owner of six, and Collins, also a bike owner, spent many a summer’s day out on the open road. It was a pastime they thoroughly enjoyed.
This particular morning, Collins, Flavin and two other friends, Donnchadh Costello and Eddie Hayes, met for an early breakfast at the Irish Coffee Shop on McLean Avenue in Yonkers before they set off. They were excited and a bit giddy about the weekend.
It was decided a few weeks before that to show Collins a proper send off, they would participate in the Ramapo 500 motorcycle ride. It started in Monroe, New York and was scheduled to finish in Hancock, a town Flavin never got to see that day.
They planned to camp out under the stars and drink a few beers when they reached their final destination on Saturday evening. The ride was 250 miles each way.
“I remember it was pretty cold early in the morning but a few hours into the ride it got so hot I took off my motorcycle jacket,” said Flavin. This action he would later regret.
Although there were several bike enthusiasts on the ride, the four friends stuck together. They stopped off for lunch in a small town on the route, reminisced about the good times they all had together during Collins’s 14 years in New York and shared many a laugh.
Little did they know that less than 15 minutes back on the road, life for one of them would change drastically.
“We got back on our bikes. I still had my jacket off because it was so hot and off we went,” recalled Flavin.
Hayes was leading the group through the small town of Downsville, with Flavin second, Costello third and Collins last. They were just under the 30-mile an hour speed limit.
“It all happened so quickly,” said Flavin painfully.
“I could see this big silver truck (a dodge Durango) coming at us at fair speed around a bend; he was way over the double yellow lines on our side of the road and before I knew it he was coming at us head on.”
Hayes swerved to avoid the car, hurling him into a ditch. He escaped with minor bruising. But Flavin wasn’t so lucky. The oncoming car ploughed through Flavin and missed Costello by a few inches.
“I did everything in my power to turn the bike in the opposite direction but it was too late,” said Flavin.
The car hit Flavin at such a high speed that his body and bike pulled off the front wheel of the vehicle. The impact caused the Kerry man to go flying into the air. When he finally hit the ground he skidded a few yards, causing all sorts of damage to his body.
“The next thing I remember is lying on the road trying to figure out where my leg was and what just happened,” he said.
Flavin could instantly feel the road burns on his arms from only wearing a t-shirt, and he knew there and then his leg wasn’t in good shape.
Seeing his friend in such a bad state, Collins rushed to a nearby house and called 911. Collins later told friends, "PJ took the hit and that impact made the truck cross back to the other side. Only for that we would all have been hit. He saved our lives.”
As soon as emergency services reached the scene, Flavin was rushed to a nearby hospital in Binghamton, New York, where he underwent 10 excruciating hours of surgery in an effort to save his life.
“They told me there was a lot of internal bleeding everywhere so they had to spend hours working to stop that. They also did their best that day to stabilize my leg,” he recalls.
It was the days that followed that were the most difficult.
“All I can remember is waking up in a hospital bed in some place unknown to me with my friends standing over me and these tubes sticking out of my throat,” he shared.
“It was a horrible feeling. I couldn’t communicate with anyone.”
During that week doctors informed Flavin he may lose his leg but they would do their best to save it.
He underwent several surgeries in that hospital and was finally transferred to New York Presbyterian a few days after the accident. There several other surgeries were performed, including many skin grafts.
“These were some of the most painful surgeries,” he recalls.
On August 10, his wife’s birthday, Flavin underwent major surgery to have his right leg amputated from the knee down.
“The doctors and nurses were amazing. They did everything in their power to save my leg but infections had gotten so bad that they had no choice,” he said.
Flavin, a construction worker by trade, spent the next three months in the hospital trying to learn to use one leg for day-to-day activities. He underwent many more surgeries and had time to come to terms with the loss.
His final two weeks in care were spent in Burke Rehabilitation Center in White Plains. In total he spent three and a half months in and out of operating theaters and physical therapy rooms. And the surgeries are not over yet.
“They may still need to amputate some more of my leg so we’ll see,” he said while pointing out a phone-like machine attached to his right thigh that sends waves into his femur to stimulate it in an effort to heal the damage caused. He will also have to undergo surgery to his left knee which was damaged in the accident.
Flavin said he is now able to manage his pain, but the worst discomfort of all is what he calls the “phantom pain.”
“This affects me mainly at night when I’m trying to sleep. The brain thinks the leg is still there causing a lot of phantom pain. It’s definitely the worst part,” he said.
Flavin now spends his days indoors. He calls Ireland for hours each day to pass the time. He uses a walker and a wheelchair to get around.
His apartment, which has steps both inside and outside, has been modified to make it accessible.
He looks forward to visits from his friends on a regular basis and is grateful for their time and support.
“My friends, wife and family have been so supportive and I couldn’t get to where I am today without them,” he said.
“Even when I was in the hospital people that I would never have expected came to see me, and it gave me a real lift.”
Flavin is also thankful to the Kerryman’s Association, of which he is a member, for their ongoing support and to the Celtic Bike Club of New York.
Looking ahead, Flavin hopes by the end of the year to have a prosthetic and resume some sort of normal physical life again.
“I’m really looking forward to getting to walk by myself again, getting that independence back that was stolen from me that day in July, but it will take a lot of practice, physio, time and patience but it will come,” he said positively.
A benefit will take place at the Kerry Hall (305 McLean Avenue) in Yonkers on Sunday, January 29 to raise as much funds as possible to help with Flavin’s mounting medical costs.
Mass is scheduled to be said by Father Brian Coffey at noon, followed by an afternoon filled with music, kids entertainment and fun.
An auction will be held at 6 p.m. for various items donated by people. Numerous raffles will take place throughout the day for many dinners, a Kindle Fire and an iPad.
Entertainment will be provided by local bands including Mary Courtney, Tommy Flynn, Padraig Allen and the McLean Avenue Band, Mary G, Dessie and Marie and the Pride of Moyvane. Rock band Big
Girl’s Blouse has also volunteered their time for the evening. Kids entertainment will be from 2-5 p.m.
Auction items include a 2011 team signed Kilkenny hurling jersey, a signed Kerry kersey, a handcrafted motorcycle and a Long Kesh handmade cross. Bids are now being taken on auction items.
Checks can be written to Family Flavin and mailed to P.J. Flavin Fundraiser, c/o Kerry Hall, 305 McLean Avenue, Yonkers, New York 10705.
Alternatively donations can be made directly to any Chase bank. Account name: Family Flavin. Account number: 996131413.
For raffle tickets, donations, sponsorship or any other inquiries call Donnchadh Costello 914-513-8791, Joe Collins 914-804-4206, Kevin Foley 914-473-0739, or April Drew 914-562-5097. Log onto firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.