After losing all hope in life, a County Wicklow man who spent more than a year using both his hands and knees to get around, found joy in life again after a highly successful operation in New York in March.
Paddy Byrne, 47, had an accident at work in 2007, causing him excruciating pain. He thought the pain was coming from his ribs or his back.
The pain got so bad the only way he could get around was on all fours. Doctors in Ireland said there was nothing wrong with him. Maybe a little physiotherapy would do the trick.
Byrne, who worked as a forestry contractor, began to question himself. Was he imagining the pain?
Sandra Byrne, Paddy’s wife, was slowly losing the husband she loved very dearly. He was giving up on life. Depression was a day-to-day reality for the young man.
He told his wife he couldn’t continue the way he was. Doctors in Ireland said there was nothing that could be done. He was told to get used to living with the pain and using his knees and hands to get from place to place. He couldn’t do it for much longer.
While suffering from extremely bad pains since his accident in 2007, it wasn’t until March 2008 that everything came to a head.
“I found Paddy out in the field stretched out. He couldn’t move. It was just terrible,” remembers Sandra.
To get her husband back into the house, Sandra knew she had to be innovative. She hitched a trailer to the back of a quad bike, and after some struggles got Paddy onto the trailer and back to the house and called the ambulance. Byrne was rushed to Naas Hospital.
“They said nothing was wrong with him,” said Sandra angrily.
“I was losing my mind. I couldn’t continue like that anymore,” Byrne himself told the Irish Voice from his home in Knockananna, Co. Wicklow on Monday, June 29.
Paddy and Sandra were at their wits end. They sat down and discussed the option of going to America. They heard good things about doctors and operations in the U.S. but they really didn’t have that much information.
“I didn’t care, I would have preferred to end up in a wheelchair than the way I was,” said Byrne after carrying out a few odd jobs around their modest farm.
Doctors in Ireland told Byrne they didn’t have the tools to fix his problem.
“Every door was shut in our face. They just didn’t care or have the answers we were looking for,” recalls Sandra.
Paying for an appointment with a top doctor in a hospital in Dublin, Sandra said they weren’t even granted face to face time with the doctor.
“A nurse came out and pulled Paddy around for about half an hour and he crippled, and said that she would report her findings to the doctor,” said Sandra.
The nurse reported that Paddy “just needed physiotherapy.”
Distraught yet again, Sandra called the nurse back and asked about this new injection she had heard about that supposedly alleviated bad pain. The nurse said that the injection was not an option for Paddy.
“When she told me this I just broke down. I started to cry and told her that this man was almost suicidal. She said, ‘I beg your pardon.’ I repeated myself again and she said, ‘That isn’t for me to deal with, contact your GP.”
It was a neighbor that suggested the Byrnes contact a member of their family in New York, John Lambert, who immigrated to the U.S. in the 1950s.
Lambert was in fact in Ireland in January and met with Paddy and Sandra. He said he knew a great doctor who might be able to point them in the right direction.
As soon as Lambert got back to New York (he resides in Yonkers, New York with his wife Chris) he was on the case. Within a few days, Lambert requested that Byrne send over his MRI scan. He did.
A micro-neurosurgeon by the name of Dr. Richard Radna at St. Joseph's Medical Center in Yonkers said he could fix Byrne.
“I’ll never forget the day that John called to tell us he had found someone. Paddy was very depressed that day. The smile that came over his face after receiving the news was so wonderful,” said Sandra.
“Just for someone to actually believe that he was in pain and that it wasn’t in his head was such a huge relief for him.”
Although slightly apprehensive, Byrne said he was willing to take the chance.
“I would have done anything at that stage to get rid of the pain,” admitted Byrne.
He was slightly worried about paralysis after the operation, but because the pain was so bad he was willing to take the risk.
“Well,” said Sandra, “It was either take the risk of the operation and possibly being in a wheelchair or living with awful pain and on his knuckles and knees for the rest of his life.”
The Byrnes sold ten acres of land to pay for the expensive operation. After a few weeks of preparation (blood tests etcetera) in Ireland, Byrne, Sandra and their youngest child, Sarah, 9 (they have two older children in their twenties) were on a plane bound for New York.