Orla Watters decided to take part in the Vhi Women’s Mini Marathon for the first time in 2006 following a life-changing accident that same year in which her younger brother Niall sustained a catastrophic spinal cord injury.
Orla, from Co. Cavan, decided to become a champion for people with spinal cord injuries after she witnessed first-hand the devastating impact it can have on not only the person it happens to but also on the family around them.
“It was a very scary time at first because we didn’t know anything about spinal cord injuries. We had to learn all about it as we went through it,” said Orla.
She explained that her family received much-needed support from Spinal Injuries Ireland (SII) while Niall was a patient in hospital and she explained that this was the reason that she decided to do the Vhi Women’s Mini Marathon in aid of SII.
“I decided to do it in aid of SII as a thank you to them for all the help they gave Niall and our family while we navigated our way through a difficult time. It was important to us that we gave back in some way.”
To take part in the Vhi Women’s Mini Marathon, she gathered a group of friends and family and raised a combined total of over €5,000 for SII.
“We fundraised for SII by setting up a mycharity.ie page and we put a link up to the page on our personal Facebook pages to ask people to donate. We were delighted with how generous people were in supporting us.”
In the succeeding years, as she watched her brother grow stronger, Orla decided that she wanted to mark his 10 year anniversary by once again taking part in the Vhi Women’s Mini Marathon.
“Last year, myself, my aunt and my cousin took part in the mini marathon just to mark the occasion. It was nice to do and it was nice to just remember the same walk we did 10 years ago as well. People were very generous again last year and we raised a total of €947 for SII.”
Orla explained that it is important to her that fundraising is carried out for people with spinal injuries as she saw first-hand how much needs to be done for people with spinal cord injuries in Ireland.
“Niall, who was 19 at the time, sustained his injury on 28th February 2006 when he went to Galway Rag Week with his friends. He was actually a student in DIT in Dublin studying Architectural Technology but he just went to Galway with his friends for a few days.”
“While he was there, he dived off a jetty into the river Corrib at Corrib village. Everyone else jumped in feet first but Niall dived in head first and hit his head off a rock which was submerged in the water. This resulted in a C5/C6 compression fracture on his spine, leaving him now an incomplete quadriplegic.”
Niall spent six months at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire to work on regaining his movement and during that time Orla deferred her second year college exams in UCD until August so that she could visit her brother every day.
“The initial prognosis was that Niall would be paralysed from the neck down but then when he was in hospital he began to move as far as his elbow so we realised he was getting some movement back. Now he’s walking with the aid of a splint on his leg and has completed his degree in Architectural Technology. He is now living in London for the last three years and working for an architectural firm over there.”
Orla explained that Spinal Injuries Ireland were pivotal in helping Niall achieve certain milestones in his life by allowing him to access different services that the charity provided.
“Niall learned how to drive an automatic car through SII and when we realised Niall was getting better movement-wise we would always check in with SII to see what other services he could access. My Dad spoke to SII a lot about the practical side of things too like when Niall was first coming home we needed to know how to adapt our house. Dad went into SII and asked where should he start and he got a huge amount of help and advice on grant funding from them.”
A decade after Niall sustained his spinal cord injury, he has transformed his life and is enjoying his career and lifestyle in London.
“When something like this happens to your brother it also happens to your whole family,” said Orla.
“You learn how to adapt to the situation and you learn how to help them out in any way you can. Looking back it all feels like a bit of a dream but it’s great to see Niall doing so well. He now has the freedom that anyone else would have to live their life the way he wants and I’m very proud of him.”
The annual Vhi Women’s Mini Marathon will take place on Monday June 5th, 2017 in Dublin city centre. This year, Spinal Injuries Ireland (SII) is appealing for supporters to sign up and participate as part of the SII mini marathon team as demand for its services continues to grow. To sign up to the Spinal Injuries Ireland mini marathon team call 01 2355317 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.