FOR many of its members the Irish Wheelchair Association’s “Think Ahead Think Housing campaign” has really impacted them and struck a chord, writes Dan Danaher.
In 2015, Liz Leamy was just 42 when she suffered a stroke that brought dramatic changes to her health and quality of life. At the time her third and youngest child was just six years old.
While she regained much of her mobility at first, Liz regrets not thinking about housing and her long-term housing needs sooner.
“I was laid back thinking ‘oh it’ll be fine I’ll get better’ but it was the other way around.
“I should have started getting everything in place the year I got my stroke. Not waiting years down the line.”
Liz is very eager for people like her to think about their home and whether it is adapted and safe. After her stroke, Liz and her husband couldn’t renovate their rental home to make it safer for her and suitable for HSE homecare support.
Over the years she has had some falls and accidents at home alone and today Liz is in a wheelchair.
Now living in Abbeyville, Ennis, Liz has secured a house in Tulla, but didn’t get an option to remain in Ennis, which was her preference, as she is concerned about the lack of accessible transport in East Clare.
Her husband, Seamus (60) gave up his job to act as her carer. Liz said suitable housing is really important.
“It has cost me my future now. I used to be able to drive after my stroke but now I’ve lost the power of my right hand and left leg. That is a huge loss for my independence.”
Liz and her family applied for social housing and now hope to have an accessible home by the end of 2022.
However, their new home will be about 25 mins outside Ennis town, leaving Liz very isolated and dependent without a car. But at this point her family has no choice and needs a home.
“What I would be saying to people is when an accident happens that is the time to get ahead of it. Don’t wait until things get worse, which is what happened to me” she says.
“I am really for this campaign. I am in a wheelchair now but I try to stay positive” says Liz.
She hopes her story and this campaign will help other people: “This campaign has really opened my eyes. I am getting a house but I want to look out for other people too.”
On December 14, 2014, Liz, who is now 48, went into shock when her mother, Betty McNamara died suddenly in the theatre. She believes it was a major contributory factor to her first stroke.
“It turned my life upside down. I was perfect up to that. I am one of five children and my body went into shock. My doctor told me to get support and help. I ignored it and said I would be fine. When I look back at it I have a lot of regrets.”
In an interview with the Clare Champion, Liz admitted she made a mistake by returning to work in EI Electronics in Shannon too soon.
“I decided to go back to EI Electronics and collapsed one night inside at work. They warned me when you get one stroke you can get another one.
“I wasn’t sleeping at night and I was trying to keep down a day job and look after young children. I didn’t listen to my body.
“There was warnings coming on while I was at work. I was getting terrible headaches and pain in my ear.
“I went shopping out to Dooradoyle. I never forget that day, I was staggering around and losing my balance. I am a very independent person and thought I must have an ear ache.
“I went to my friend’s birthday, even though I had a very bad headache.
On March 9, 2015, the Sixmilebridge native was living in Quin when she got a stroke.
“At about 3.30pm, I got a pain in my chest and it went up to the top of my head, you couldn’t describe it, it was a pounding headache. I fell to the floor. My children went to my brother-in-law, and he helped me get back up off the floor.
“He said we better ring for a GP. I was paralysed from the neck down by the time I got to University Hospital Limerick. My face had drooped and I didn’t know what was happening.
“I couldn’t smile or anything. I don’t remember much until they did a thrombolysis injection, which only brought back things on a 50/50 basis in terms of the paralysis.
“I had a lot of work to do with rehabilitation. The first 12 months was torture along with the grief of my mother dying.”
Liz regrets not listening to the warning signs in her body and not taking medication at one stage.
“I overpowered myself and my body crashed again. I ended up in hospital in October 2017 and had to go into a wheelchair. It was like getting a second stroke. It resulted in paralysis in my right leg and restricted my walking.”
In September 2018, Liz recalled she had to give up her job, which had a big impact on her life: “I loved going to work and meeting my friends. It was tough trying to cope with three young children. The first year being in a wheelchair was very tough. I couldn’t cope being in a wheelchair. I went from walking to a wheelchair.”
Liz is still in a wheelchair and goes to a hydrotherapy pool to try to improve her mobility.
She urged people with disabilities to think ahead and access whatever supports they require.
“I can’t drive. I see my friends in the Irish Wheelchair Association and they are residing in a nursing home. I have to think ahead now because the last place I want to be is in a nursing home because my friends are in there and they want to get out.”