Belfast Telegraph

Happy 18th Phoebe! Teenager defies odds to celebrate her birthday with a night out

Brave student who sustained horror injuries when she was aged three marks a major milestone

By Stephanie Bell

Phoebe Lyle defied all the odds to celebrate her 18th birthday yesterday, which she did in typical teenage style with her first-ever visit to a Belfast nightclub.

The Bangor girl was slogging away on her A-level course work as we caught up with her before the celebrations when it was clear that her excitement at marking the milestone was proving something of a distraction.

With two of Northern Ireland's top stylists booked to help her get ready for her big night - hairdresser-to-the-stars Brenda Shankey and make-up artist Oonagh Boman - plus a new dress hanging in her closet, Phoebe had her special day planned to the last detail.

Speaking exclusively to the Belfast Telegraph before her big night out, she said: "I've been trying to study but it is hard to concentrate because I am excited about my birthday. I've been planning my 18th very much in advance and I want to go to a nightclub because I want to be like any other 18-year-old. I went shopping last week to get my dress.

"It is very bling, and I'm getting my hair and make-up done... I can't wait."

Editor's viewpoint: Brave Phoebe a shining example of triumph over adversity

She describes herself as "not really a girly girl", so going all-out for a special glam look last night was a rare step for her and quite a treat.

While she wants to feel very much like "any other teenager" enjoying her coming of age rite of passage to go clubbing with her friends, Phoebe has more obstacles than most to face day to day.

When she was just three years old she was not expected to survive after being horrifically injured in a hit-and-run while on holiday with her family in Spain.

Her little body was hurled 40 feet in the air and she landed on her head, sustaining severe injuries to her spinal cord.

She spent three weeks in a coma in Spain and was still not fully conscious when transferred to the intensive care unit of the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

After almost a year in the Royal she was transferred to the Ulster Hospital.

It was 16 months after she was injured before she finally got home in August 2002.

For many months no one knew whether she would live, and if so what her quality of life would be. Indeed, her injuries were so critical that she wasn't expected to be able to speak again.

But from day one Phoebe fought and astounded everyone - she was back to chatting away within a few months of her brush with death.

Left only able to move from the neck up, Phoebe cannot take a single breath on her own. She also can't cough, which is why she needs a ventilator and two carers with her 24 hours a day.

As she grew up surrounded by a supportive and loving family, Phoebe has never let the terrible hand she has been dealt get her down.

In fact, since she was a child she has continually astonished those who know her with her determination not to let anything hold her back from achieving her dreams.

A talented artist, she learned to paint with her mouth and is able to study using a chopstick to operate a wireless keyboard.

She has been writing plays since the age of five and has written her own movie scripts and poetry, which she now publishes on Facebook - Phoebe Lyle's Poetry.

She attended mainstream primary school and last year passed six GCSEs and is currently back at St Columbanus College in her native Bangor studying for A-levels in RE, English literature and moving images.

It is her ambition to one day open her own film school and she plans to study film-making at Queen's University after completing her A-levels.

Now, as she matures into a passionate and articulate young woman, behind the scenes she is quietly becoming a champion for other disabled young people like herself.

She has recently recorded a documentary - which she directed - for BBC Northern Ireland on disabled young people.

She has also just set up her own blog site reviewing new Apple technology for disabled people.

When not in front of her computer working on her latest project she says she enjoys the company of her close friends, reading and watching TV - her favourite programme is The Chase.

Living a full and happy life, Phoebe thinks only positively about her lot, focusing on what she can do and not how her disability may restrict her.

She said: "I really don't think it (being disabled) has been a problem for me. The way I look at it is that I am better getting on with it rather than letting it hold me back.

"In the future I would like to set up some sort of charity to help other disabled people to think about what they can do and not what disability stops them from doing.

"I am happy with how I am and I think part of that is the great support I have had from my parents, which has allowed me to go out and not let anything stop me from doing what I want."

While her A-level work takes up a lot of her time, Phoebe is constantly thinking about her career, writing and working towards her goal to run her own movie company.

Last year she chose to spend her work experience from school in the BBC and was delighted to get a behind-the-scenes insight into the making of the Nolan Radio Show.

She made such an impression on those she met that Stephen Nolan invited her to appear on his TV show, and she was also interviewed on Radio Ulster's popular midday show Talkback.

However, in terms of her career goals she was thrilled to be asked to apply for the chance to make her own documentary for BBC TV.

She explained: "I had to go through a selection process and be interviewed and it has been a great experience.

"I have been interviewing disabled people and non-disabled people about what they want in life with the aim of showing that disabled people are just like everyone else when it comes to their hopes and dreams.

"I also got to direct the programme. I recently got the draft edit from the BBC and there has to be another voiceover added to it and then it is ready. "

The film is expected to be available to watch online on the BBC website soon, and Phoebe also hopes it will be shown on TV in the spring.

As if making her own documentary and getting to grips with her first year of A-level course work isn't enough to keep her busy, she has set up her own online blog -

Phoebe explained: "It was the end of last summer when I just decided to do it. I went into my local Apple store and asked them if they would let me look at stuff to do a review on whether it is suitable for people with less mobility.

"I now go up to the store once a month and test whatever they have in that is new and write about it on my blog.

"I have a few different things on the table at the moment. I am also currently recreating some of my scripts and I've written a few more poems recently which I now have on Facebook. I am also busy studying."

But last night, for a few hours at least, Phoebe was putting her ambitions to the side as she enjoyed her first taste of socialising in a nightclub as a young adult.

Her devoted parents Jane, who is one of her full-time carers, and Robert, a company director with Lyle Bailie International advertising agency and her older brother Patrick (19), who is studying criminology at Leicester University, joined her for dinner last night.

Her parents then enjoyed a relaxing evening in the Merchant Hotel while their daughter partied downstairs.

Both parents are naturally very proud of Phoebe and her achievements, and Jane was almost as excited as Phoebe to see her daughter mark the milestone of her 18th.

Jane said: "To be quite honest, if you had told me in 2001 that Phoebe would be celebrating her 18th birthday I would have told you not to be so stupid.

"It is all very well being optimistic, but I never thought back then we would get to this stage. Right from the early years she just exceeded all the expectations and I have to say that it is largely due to the care she received from the word go.

"The fact that our friend Chelo, who is a nurse, was able to do CPR at the scene made a huge difference to the overall outcome.

"The care she got in Spain, then in the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, and then in the Maynard's Ward in the Ulster Hospital, and the community care at home has been excellent."

Jane says she is also indebted to the parents of well-known local campaigner for the disabled, Michaela Hollywood.

Michaela (25), from Crossgar, is confined to a wheelchair with spinal muscular atrophy and has paved the way for better facilities for disabled people through a charity she founded, the muscular dystrophy campaign Trailblazers.

Explained Jane: "I don't think Michaela's parents realise the difference they made to us and to Phoebe.

"In the early days whenever we were in the Royal with Phoebe we bumped into them and they gave us very good advice which I took to heart and have lived with for the past 15 years. They said that even though a child might be life-limited, and that is something you cannot take back, that we should plan to educate and assume that the child will become an adult.

"Having Michaela as an example to us as parents gave us great heart.

"She fought battles which have made life easier for Phoebe and she is one of the reasons why Phoebe went down the mainstream education route."

As she speaks it is clear that Jane is full of gratitude for the fact that she is able to look on with joy as her daughter celebrates her 18th birthday.

She also paid tribute to both schools - Ballymagee Primary and Columbanus College - for the way in which they embraced and supported Phoebe.

She added: "I think we are very lucky to Iive in Northern Ireland where we have an excellent State education system and a superb National Health Service.

Everyone is quick to criticise when something goes wrong and not enough people speak out in praise when it works."

Belfast Telegraph


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