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.
Unfortunately for Byrne the journey was extremely difficult. He had to kneel on the floor for the seven-hour flight. His pain didn’t allow him to sit on a seat.
The trio arrived in New York on Monday, March 9, and two days later the Co. Wicklow man was under the knife at the hands of Dr. Radna.
After another two days, Byrne walked out of St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Yonkers a new man. His pain was gone and his spirits had lifted.
“I just couldn’t believe it,” said Byrne. “I was walking normal again and the pain was gone.”
Sandra said she “can’t say enough about how wonderful” Dr. Radna was to the family.
“He was waiting for us when we arrived the first day with open arms down in the lobby. There himself waiting and he gave us a hug. Just a fantastic man that cured my husband,” she said.
“Dr. Radna rang us about four times every day for the first week and then about five times the next week,” said Sandra, blown away by the professionalism of the surgeon.
Byrne said of Radna, who is an assistant clinical professor at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan, “Hhe is the most amazing man I’ve ever met. He still emails me to see if I am okay or if I am having any discomforts. Now you wouldn’t get that from any Irish surgeon -- you wouldn’t even get to see an Irish surgeon face to face.”
“I have a whole new lease of life now,” shares Byrne as he laughs with the joy of it. “I was hardly every outside the door in the year and a half before the operation. Sure what kind of life was that.”
“Yes,” concurs Sandra relieved to see her husband happy again.
“My husband is back to his own self,” she said happily.
“Now,” said Byrne, “I feel 100%. I’m just on top of the world, honest to God. You just wouldn’t believe it if you saw me before the operation.”
Byrne rented an apartment near Lambert and his family in Yonkers for the duration of his stay in New York.
After nine weeks of recovery, of which they spent the last week with Lambert and his family in their home, Byrne got a flight back to Ireland, and this time was able to sit down and enjoy the flight.
The goal of the surgery was to decompress, or unpinch the right Lumbar-5 nerve root in Byrne’s body. Radna inserted a bone from an anonymous donor into Byrne’s spine to correct the issue. It worked.
“Dr. Radna said he only believed in using God-made material,” laughs Byrne referring to the bone from a donor.
“I fell just great now and in another year Dr. Radna said I will feel 18 again,” said Byrne through a hearty laugh.
“I’m supposed to be taking it easy but sure I’m on such a high and so happy to be rid of the pain and have my life back I can’t be kept still.”
Byrne said that although he will always be thankful to Radna for giving him his life back, he said there are two men he will always be indebted to.
“If it wasn’t for John Lambert and his brother Father Owen Lambert (who is based in Ireland). I would still be on the floor or be after committing suicide, said Byrne. “They saved my life for sure.”
Byrne also admitted he was overjoyed at the hospitality the Irish people living in Yonkers showed him and his family while they were in New York.
“People were just amazing to us over there. All John’s neighbors and everyone were lovely. And our landlady Maria is a nurse and checked up on me everyday we stayed with her,” said Byrne.
“I just can’t thank the people of Yonkers enough.”
Byrne hung up the phone like someone who had just won the Lotto, full of the joy of life. “Life is just fantastic and I intend to enjoy every last minute of it,” he said.
“If anything I’ve appreciated every single minute of the life I’ve has since the operation and if I was to go this very minute that would be okay because I wouldn’t regret a thing.”