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How a young girl's serious horseriding accident led to her campaign to raise thousands of pounds to buy prosthetic legs for injured soldiers

Teenager Tara O'Rourke, who grandparents hail from Fermanagh and Cavan, spent months in hospital after her horse fell on her and was so moved by the plight of wounded soldiers she met there that she decided to record a song and video to help with their recovery. By Ivan little

A 16-year-old schoolgirl who was almost killed in a riding accident has launched a campaign to raise money to buy prosthetic legs for injured soldiers. Tara O'Rourke, whose grandparents are from Cavan and Fermanagh, has recor ded a new version of Danny Boy and she's used images of Royal Irish Regiment soldiers in an accompanying video.

The selfless teenager from Derbyshire, who met wounded service personnel during her recovery in the Royal Orthopeadic Hospital in Birmingham, says she was moved by the suffering and sacrifices of the soldiers.

Brave fight: Tara with her parents, Rachael and Gerry
Brave fight: Tara with her parents, Rachael and Gerry

She adds: "I was off my feet for months but I am recovering. I want to help soldiers who aren't as fortunate as me."

Tara's mother Rachael watched in horror as her then 11-year-old daughter's horse fell on top of her during an eventing tournament in September 2013.

Rachael says: "I really thought that Tara was dead. The horse she was riding fell on top of her after throwing her off and landing on its back.

"As it tried to get on to its feet again the horse was rolling over her as she lay face down in the dirt.

"I have never run so fast in my life to get to her."

An unconscious Tara was rushed by air ambulance to the Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham where she was put into intensive care.

It was discovered that Tara's pelvis was shattered but that was only the start of her problems, which have seen her going in and out of hospital in recent years.

Family support: Tara with her grandparents Sheila and Des O’Rourke
Family support: Tara with her grandparents Sheila and Des O’Rourke

"We feared that she was going to be left paralysed. And then we were frightened about the possibility of head injuries. But really she has been so, so lucky.

"Some horse riders have been killed in similar accidents," says Rachael.

After Tara's pelvis healed following months of rest and recuperation she started to experience problems with her hip.

Bright star: Tara competing at a horseriding event
Bright star: Tara competing at a horseriding event

They were exacerbated after Tara had another fall and began blacking out from the constantly recurring pain, in what doctors initially said was her partially dislocated hip.

Things got so bad, however, that Tara had to drop out of boarding school and eventually underwent surgery in February last year to reconstruct her hip.

Even more procedures followed as the metalwork was removed from her hip.

Tara during her recovery in the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham
Tara during her recovery in the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham

Tara who'd been an energetic swimmer, athlete and netball and hockey player was housebound but she didn't take her incapacity lying down, so to speak.

She says: "I learnt how to sew and to make dresses. I was also singing and playing the piano and saxophone and, of course, I was also doing my schoolwork at home."

All the while, however, Tara, who was in a wheelchair or on crutches for months on end, never forgot the plight of the soldiers she'd met in Birmingham.

Tara O'Rourke
Tara O'Rourke

And her thoughts of helping them crystallised after conversations with her godmother, Glenda Gaitz, who had seen more than her fair share of wars as a TV producer.

Glenda worked alongside ITN reporter Mark Austin covering wars in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan and is now a producer on Sixty Minutes in Australia.

Tara's mum Rachael says that, like her friend Glenda, Tara suffered from post traumatic stress disorder.

Rachael adds: "After her accident Tara had terrible nightmares about being smothered again. Glenda had long chats with her about PTSD and about her war experiences. She told Tara how soldiers had helped her in various conflicts where she was embedded with them.

"She said the soldiers were amazing in the way they dealt with so many awful things."

Tara says: "I was really affected by what Glenda had to say about the impact of war and having encountered soldiers in hospital I decided I wanted to try to do something for them."

Tara also learnt more about the grim realities of war from a family friend, an orthopaedic surgeon who worked in field hospitals in Iraq during two tours, trying to put broken soldiers back together again.

"He was able to save many soldiers and civilians who in the past would have died from their wounds," says Tara.

"What he told me made me even more determined to play a part, and Glenda and I discussed organising a fundraiser for Help for Heroes. I thought that getting cash for prosthetic legs for soldiers would be a good idea."

Tara has long had an interest in the role played by Irish soldiers in the British army.

"I have read up a lot about the history of the Royal Irish and that's probably because of my family background.

"I have lots of cousins in Ireland and I love visiting them."

Tara, who sings in a national youth choir, hit on the tuneful idea of raising money for Help for Heroes by recording Danny Boy, which is the favourite song of her Irish grandmother, Sheila.

Tara was able to use a studio at Harrow School in London, which is attended by her brother Hamish, to record the song.

And Nigel Bateson, a war videographer friend of her godmother Glenda, offered to film the Harrow session.

He too has been with the Army in different war zones and he also says his life was saved many times by British troops. For his video Nigel accessed old archive pictures of Irish soldiers going to war in 1916 and intercut images of more recent conflicts as well as the repatriation of bodies to Britain and the solemn processions through the Wiltshire town of Royal Wootton Bassett.

There's also footage of Royal Irish Remembrance Day commemorations in London's Westminster Cathedral last year.

Says Tara :"The video tells the story of a century of war and while World War One ended in 1918 generations of soldiers from the same families continue to serve our armed forces in conflicts around the world, sometimes sacrificing their health or their lives."

The video has been included in Tara's JustGiving page, and Help for Heroes have also backed her initiative and her aim of raising a minimum of £10,000 to go towards buying prosthetic legs for injured soldiers.

Looking to her longer-term future Tara, who's studying for her GCSEs, says she wants to become a surgeon as a way of putting something back to society for the help she received.

Tara's dad Gerry, who's a globe-trotting businessman, is proud of what his daughter is trying to achieve.

He says: "She is very driven and she has competed at school national level in her time at swimming and the hurdles as well as horse riding.

"Tara has shown a great understanding of what soldiers who return to the UK from overseas can go through.

"She's better now but she knows all about the emotions of lying in a hospital bed and being unsure about life when she would get out, just like the soldiers."

Tara's mum Rachael, an engineering geologist, had to take a break from her job to care for her incapacitated daughter.

"She's really plucky and she's been determined to get back to some sort of normality and I think it's tremendous that she wants to help other people like wounded soldiers."

Tara says she would like to come to Ireland once her recovery is complete, after two more rounds of surgery on her hips, to meet soldiers from the Royal Irish Regiment.

And an Ulster Unionist politician who served with the regiment says he'd be happy to assist in facilitating a visit for Tara and her family.

Doug Beattie says: "What Tara is doing is wonderful. And it would be a privilege to meet her and talk about her plans.

"In Northern Ireland we don't have a centre which produces prosthetic limbs."

In recent years, there has been a reduction in the numbers of soldiers serving in conflicts overseas but Mr Beattie says many victims from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars - and from the Troubles here - don't have access to more modern high grade prosthetics.

"Any help in getting them state-of-the art prosthetics would be fantastic," says the MLA.

Belfast Telegraph


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