Doctors said you simply don’t survive after falling 60 feet, but Ger O’Sullivan did and is somehow alive to tell Donal O’Regan how.
DOCTORS say there is no logical reason how Ger O’Sullivan is alive today.
The 23-year-old fell 60 feet (18 metres) onto concrete at a fun-park in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in July.
Yet here he is sipping tea in his Castleconnell home celebrating getting out of his wheelchair the previous day. By all medical convention Ger should be a few hundred yards up the road in Stradbally cemetery.
Doctors gave him a five per cent chance of survival after the fall.
“They said you just don’t survive with my injuries. If I landed any other way I was killed stone dead. I died twice on the operating table,” said Ger.
Medical journals are being written about him and he is understandably being called the miracle man.
Ger travelled on a J1 visa last May to the USA.
“There were about 30 of us living on Flag Street, Myrtle Beach. It was like mini-Limerick. My mates said there was a job if you want it in Zipline Adventures.
“I got trained in and worked on the sending tower of the zipline. The first time I went up you would be a bit scared but you got so used to the height it didn’t become an issue.
“It was fine, it wasn’t scary. I suited up the customers and sent them down the zipline. I was very good at it believe it or not!” smiled Ger.
Six weeks in, it was just a normal Friday – an hour until his shift finished.
“I was up there with one of the lads, it was busy, it just happened so quickly. The funny thing is I’ve caught out the lads for not being hooked in and I’ve said it to them. The one time I didn’t hook in I didn’t notice, nobody noticed.
“I must have lost my bearings, I went back to demonstrate what to do to a customer and I didn’t know how far back I was. One step and straight off the edge, gone,” recalls Ger.
He can’t remember anything while falling but what he did with his body somehow saved his life.
“I landed on my feet, I went straight down. They said I fell backwards. As I was falling I kicked myself off the ledge and turned my body so I faced the other way. I was like a pencil going straight down.”
His life should have been rubbed out.
“I came down on my legs and onto my backside. People don’t realise the height of 60 feet until you see it,” said Ger.
Mum, Maureen, believes his twin brother Stephen, who passed away in 2009, was his guardian angel.
Amazingly Ger was conscious when he landed.
“I knew I was badly injured, I remember not looking down at my injuries. Initially I remember pain but then I just forget everything,” said Ger.
The next six weeks are blank as staff at Grand Strand Medical Centre in Myrtle Beach battled to save his life. He had a compound fracture of the tibia and fibia in his left leg, broke his right ankle into pieces and shattered his entire pelvis - it was separated from his spine.
He broke his right elbow, had multiple organ failure including his kidneys and liver, and his lungs collapsed. He also got pneumonia and jaundice. A life support machine kept him breathing, and inside Ger kept fighting.
“I died twice on the table - died in A&E and then died up in the room again. I had two chest compressions, they had to break two of my ribs to do it .
“I was given 30 units of blood which is 15 pints. I had a huge haematoma in my back. I was bleeding out, with every operation there was chance I could have bled out. They didn’t know where I was bleeding from,” said Ger.
While Ger wasn’t able to communicate and was highly medicated his friends tried to keep his spirits up. For six days some never left the hospital, sleeping wherever they could.
Mum and dad, Maureen and William, had to almost force them to leave the hospital when they arrived four days after the accident happened on the ominous date of Friday, July 13. “It also took 13 minutes from when I fell for the ambulance to take me to the hospital and my mum and dad’s apartment was number 13. You couldn’t make it up, you wouldn’t want to be superstitious!” said Ger.
To compound Maureen and William’s worry when they found out on that fateful Friday, Maureen’s passport was out of date.
“We nearly went out of our minds,” she said.
To make matters worse their flight on Monday from Dublin to Atlanta was delayed so they missed the connecting flight to Myrtle Beach.
The next flight was put back due to an thunderstorm so they had to get a flight to Charleston, about two hours drive away from Ger.
What awaited them is every parent’s nightmare.
“You didn’t ask the question was he going to make it, you were too afraid of the answer. On any day you’d be fairly secure thinking he has had a good day and then suddenly something would have failed again,” said Maureen.
Ger has had over 10 operations with more to come.
The couple stayed in America for five months watching their youngest son slowly get better. They said they would not leave Ger until he was occupying the seat beside them on the plane ride home.
Again Ger confounded the doctors as they said he would need to be in hospital for 16 months. Ger did it in three and a half.
But he doesn’t sugar coat his experience.
“It wasn’t easy. There was a lot of very tough nights in that ICU (intensive care unit), you would be crying yourself to sleep some nights not being able to move.
“I was never told I wouldn’t walk again. It’s been a long road to recovery and it is not an easy recovery but I’m doing it at a much faster pace than everybody presumed and I presumed.
“I’ve had a lot of excellent medical care in Myrtle Beach, excellent physio in Castletroy and great support from mum and dad, my family and the whole community. It makes things easier when you have got that around you,” said Ger.
Showing the speed of his recovery, he got out of his wheelchair last week.
“I feel good, I’m getting stronger, I’m doing a lot of physio. It is just a waiting game and a matter of building up my strength so I’ll be able to walk eventually with just a cane, maybe even without one.
“I’ll never be 100 per cent because of my pelvis, elbow and foot but don’t get me wrong, I will take my injuries above being paralysed or dead any day.
“Last Thursday the physio said I’ve improved an awful lot and got stronger.
“She said to build up my tolerance to walking and there is no reason why you should be in the chair,” said Ger.
Now he is able to walk short distances and is using a walker to build up his strength.
What’s it like knowing that by all probability you shouldn’t be here to tell the tale?
“Firstly I am grateful to be alive. There is no point in dwelling on the accident, I’ve got another chance so you have just got to push forward to get better.
“I don’t want to think that I should be dead. I’m very lucky, everything went right. I didn’t damage my spine, neck or head, all my internal injuries got better. I want to get on with my life, the life that I’m lucky to have. I could be bitter, my injuries are very bad but there is no point getting bitter.
“I am going to walk again, I am walking now, everything will just slot back in place,” said Ger.
If a healthy body is a healthy mind, then he is working hard on both fronts.
While in America he finished off his BA Hons Degree in Sociology and Psychology and graduated from Waterford IT last week
Ger wished to thank everyone who donated to a fund set up by parents of his friends. Over €10,000 was raised and the O’Sullivans say, “when you say thank you, it doesn’t sound like enough”.
“People that don’t even knew me threw in money,” said Ger.
While Maureen said of locals giving their well earned cash: “that is something you never forget”.
Ger may have fallen 60 feet but with his spirit and family support he will scale every obstacle put in his way.