News

Ruairí O'Neill recovery astonishes doctors

Ruairí O'Neill with his parents Kevin and Gabrielle and his sisters Tara (second left) and Caoimhin on Christmas Day last year
Seanín Graham

A TEENAGE GAA star whom paramedics treated at the side of a South Armagh road as he lapsed into unconsciousness from meningitis has revealed how his recovery has astonished doctors.

Ruairí O'Neill (19) from Crossmaglen was in a coma for four days the week before Christmas as he fought a deadly strain of the viral infection.

Nine months on, the under-21 county title winner is back playing football with his beloved Crossmaglen Rangers and is heading up a charity event on Sunday to raise awareness of the killer condition and its warning symptoms.

The St Mary's University student, whose life 'revolves around the GAA', was in peak physical fitness last December when he was hit with what he thought was a 'bad cold'.

"I went home to bed to sleep it off during the afternoon but by 2am my body temperature was like a hot kettle, I had dizziness, light sensitivity and black spots on my feet," Ruairí told the Irish News.

"Luckily I was at home and not at my student house where I would have just went to bed and locked my bedroom door. My mum rang the ambulance but it got so bad we didn't even wait. They bundled way into my sister's car with my parents in the back.

"Five minutes outside Mullaghbawn the ambulance met us. We were 30 minutes from Daisy Hill hospital in Newry and I was going in and out of conciousness. The two paramedics worked on me at the side of the road for 40 minutes to get the intravenous drugs in as I was so bad.

"In medical terms it really was the 'golden hour'. I was taken to Daisy Hill and was then transferred to the Royal Victoria hospital where I was in a coma for four days. When I went into hospital I was 11 stone - with a week I had lost two stone."

Vigils were offered up for the first-year student - who is due to return to college to complete his teaching degree in January - and he was discharged from hospital on Christmas day.

After spending three months recovering at a home, the Co Armagh man said he has experienced no side effects from the potentially fatal illness.

He believes his desire to return to sport was a key to his well-being.

"It is a miracle that I am back to fitness and playing, the doctors in Daisy Hill are amazed," he said.

"It's the GAA or nothing for me - it was exactly 250 days from December 18 when I took sick to when I was back training."

The awareness raising coffee morning will take place tomorrow in Crossmaglen Rangers Hall between 9am and 2pm.

"I want people to be faster at picking up symptoms - meningitis can hit anyone. I realise that without those paramedics and Daisy Hill A&E staff I wouldn't be here today. I can't thank them enough."

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