Double amputee Ryan heads back to college

A young County Derry man who had to have both his legs amputated due to complications from a heart transplant has spoken of his plans to take up a sports course in a few months time.

Ryan O’Connor from Dungiven said that he was looking forward to starting at the Derry city campus of the North West Regional College in September, just 18 months after returning from hospital in Newcastle, England with his new prosthetic limbs.

Ryan with his family.

Ryan with his family.

The 20-year-old was speaking to the Journal after delivering a talk with his mother Donna before the June meeting of the Western Trust Health and Social Care Board members.

Ryan was born with congenital heart disease and has spent most of his childhood in and out of hospital.

For the first 18 years of his life he was regularly admitted to both Altnagelvin Hospital and the Royal in Belfast, before being taken to Newcastle for a heart transplant in November 2012.

Within two weeks of the transplant, however, the teenager had to have his legs amputated.

Heart tranplant recipient Ryan O'Connor pictured hooked up to various machines in hospital.

Heart tranplant recipient Ryan O'Connor pictured hooked up to various machines in hospital.

“If it wasn’t for the staff in all three hospitals I wouldn’t be here today,” Ryan told the Trust Board members.

“If if wasn’t for the doctors, the surgeons and the nurses here and in Belfast, I wouldn’t be where I am today – from being a very sick 18-year-old to becoming very energised, it’s a big change.

“It is still a learning process for me to go through it all,” he added.

Ryan said he was apprehensive after waking up in Newcastle to find his legs had gone and wondered what would become of him.

But then he was fitted with state-of-the-art prosthetics, which mean that he can now walk.

“For me, it was like being reborn again with a different set of legs. It was like learning to walk again like a two or three year old.

“If it wasn’t for the doctors and nurses and family and friends I wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t be as confident as I am.

“Now that I have got the energy to prove to myself I can do these things, that helps me and helps my mental state.

“I think that although it was a hard journey for my family I think it was just as hard for me and the doctors that looked after me.”

Mrs O’Connor described how she had to break the news to Liverpool F.C. fan Ryan that his legs were gone when he came around from the surgery after his transplant and amputations.

“All Ryan ever wanted to do was play football,” she said. “When he woke up it took us a few days.

“Then he just shrugged his shoulders and moved on.”

Speaking about his plans for the future Ryan added: “I am going to the Tech in September to do sport, something I never thought I could do. Now I have that ability to do it.

“As much as I will be learning from them they will be learning from me as this will be a first for them too.

“It is going to be a learning process for me and them.”

Ryan’s mother Donna added that this was the first time he would be able to do a full-time course.

She also thanked medical staff and said her son also had “big plans” to travel in the future.

Ryan and his mother said one area which could be improved upon from the perspective of patients was the communication between different Trusts and hospitals involved with the same patient, but that they got this nailed down in the end. Mrs O’Connor also said there were times when communication between medical staff and relatives wasn’t great based on her own experience.

Trust chief executive Elaine Way described Ryan as a “fabulous fellow” who reminded her of her own son of a similar age.

“You have told your story in an absolutely fantastic way and you look great,” she said.

“You have good colour in your cheeks.”Your spirit is amazing.”

Mrs Way said it was important to hear the concerns raised over communication as well.

Trust chairman Gerard Guckian said Ryan was “an inspiration well beyond the walls of this hospital and Trust”.

“Through your life, your spirit, your personality it is quite clear no matter what obstacles are put in front of you, you will get over it.”

Ryan agreed at the meeting to continue his relationship with the Trust by advising on the perspective of young people.