Belfast Telegraph

I'm just grateful to be here: Lurgan teen who spent five weeks in a coma after horror accident

'The surgeon said he had done all he could, that Justine was critically ill and he wasn't sure she would make it through. But she did... it's a miracle'

By Stephanie Bell

Lurgan teen Justine McConville spent five weeks in a coma after being hit by a car in July, but following numerous brain surgeries and a remarkable recovery she's returning to school.

A Lurgan teenager who was given little hope of survival after being hit by a car in July has made a miraculous recovery and is now looking forward to getting back to school in January. Justine McConville (16) suffered serious head injuries and spent five weeks in a coma after the horrific accident when she was flung into the air and landed on her head on July 29.

The youngest of nine children and twin to Justin, her entire family including parents Barbara (63) and Michael (67) spent an agonising few weeks praying by her hospital bedside as Justine fought for her life.

Last night her grateful mum said her daughter was alive thanks to the power of prayer and she thanked everyone in the local community for their support, as well as the medical team at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast.

It will take the teenager - who had to learn to speak again - up to a year to recover fully from her injuries.

But the incredible strength that has seen her beat the odds was again obvious last night as she voiced her determination to return to St Ronan's College to do her A-levels next year despite missing the first two terms at school.

Justine says: "I am feeling good and I am just grateful to be here. This is my A-level year and I'm going to do them so I hope to go back to school in January. I want to work with children so I will do my exams even though I have missed a lot of school.

"I don't remember anything about what happened. I was in my brother's house and I remember leaving to go home but I don't remember anything after that. I'm just glad that I am better.

"My friends and everybody have been great, and I am really grateful for the support."

Justine came through numerous brain surgeries as medical teams battled to save her life. She also spent weeks in a medically induced coma as her anxious family prayed for her recovery.

Determined to be home by Halloween, she has astonished doctors by how quickly she has got back on her feet.

She had been visiting her brother's house to do her niece's hair and had just left to go home a short distance away when the accident happened.

Police appealed for witnesses and it is understood that a teenager is now under investigation.

Justine's mum recalls the phone call telling her that her youngest child had been hit by a car.

"It was about 20 minutes to 10 o'clock and I was expecting her home when I got the call from my daughter saying there had been an accident and it might be Justine," she says.

"I actually ran with the phone still in my hand and when I got there it was terrible. There were a lot of people about. Thankfully the ambulance was there very quickly and they were fantastic."

Justine was taken to Craigavon Hospital, where her family anxiously waited for news.

It was in the early hours of the next morning when they were told the extent of the damage. Justine had sustained serious head injuries and had a broken jaw and pelvis. She was transferred to the Royal Victoria Hospital for neuro treatment.

Barbara explains: "It was about 3am in the morning and we all followed the ambulance to Belfast. She had her first surgery to relieve pressure on her brain when she arrived at the Royal but it didn't work and they had to go in again. She was critically ill and there was nothing we could do but pray, and we just waited in the hospital all day Saturday and Sunday for news."

There was devastation on the Monday when Justine suffered a brain haemorrhage and had to again be rushed into theatre.

During the operation neuro surgeons removed two parts of her skull and put them in her stomach to keep them sterile and nourished. Her distraught family were told that her life was in the balance.

Barbara says: "The surgeon came in about five to two in the morning and he was fantastic, but he said he had done everything he could and that Justine was very seriously ill and they weren't sure if she would make it. He said it was every hour now and not every day, but that she was young and strong.

"It was terrible. I just prayed because there was nothing else I could do. I got in to see her and she looked awful, she had lost a lot of blood and she was a terrible colour. I never slept and I couldn't eat and I couldn't do anything but wait and pray.

"A lot of people were praying, and we are really grateful for that."

To everyone's relief the surgery was a success, but Justine was still critically ill. She was placed in an induced coma for five-and-a-half weeks.

Barbara was by her side when it was decided to take her out of the coma.

She says: "She didn't know where she was, she was in an awful state and very frightened, but thankfully every day after that she got a wee bit stronger."

There was another frightening setback when Justine developed a chest infection, and she also faced further complicated brain surgery to put the parts removed from her skull back in.

Says Barbara: "It was a really tricky operation and it can lead to seizures or epilepsy and we were really lucky that it worked."

Justine had to receive intensive phsyio and speech therapy as she had lost the ability to speak and was communicating by writing what she wanted to say on paper.

But just two weeks after surgery she was well enough to be moved to Musgrave Park Hospital, where she spent another three-a-half weeks in rehabilitation before finally getting home in October.

She continues to receive speech therapy and phsyio and both Justine and her family are now overwhelmed with gratitude that she is making such remarkable progress.

Barbara describes her daughter as a loving, kind and affectionate young lady who loves all her family, especially her nieces and nephews.

A girly girl who adores fashion, make-up, hair and music, she is also studious and determined to have a career working with children and hopes to study to be a pediatrician. She is currently doing A-levels in media studies, health and social care and applied information technology.

Barbara says: "At the minute she is sleeping a lot and just taking it very easy, she has a long road of recovery ahead of her but she is doing very well.

"The doctors in the Royal are miracle workers and I don't know how we will ever thank them enough. Justine is a good wee child. She goes to school and comes home and does her homework and doesn't run about, just maybe goes to the cinema at the weekend.

"She has never given us any bother.

"I can't say enough how grateful I am that she is all right, that's all that matters now. I wouldn't want anyone to have to go through what we have been through in the past few months."

Belfast Telegraph

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