My son was addicted to drink and drugs and ended up ‘dead’ for 20 minutes, says Tyrone mum Kathreina Maguire
It’s an ongoing battle but he’s fighting back, says proud mum
Kathreina Maguire has lost count of how many times she thought her son was gone forever.
Homelessness, alcohol abuse and drug addition all tried to rob the Cookstown mum of her child. But after battling his demons, coming through several spells in hospital and prison as a life spiralled out of control and being declared 'dead' for almost 20 minutes, she has opened up on the pride she now feels as the first shoots of recovery have finally started to emerge.
"When doctors told us he was unlikely to survive, we refused to give up, but that was the final straw," said Kathreina. "That's the one that told us 'no more'. If anyone takes anything from this, it's the message to never give up on your family, no matter how bad things look."
Today TJ (30) will be waking up in his own home and with his family around him.
Kathreina has been here before and knows it could be TJ's final chance. But she's determined to win the war and hopes her story will help other parents who may be going through the same pain and can be inspired to do the same.
"Ten weeks ago my son was found dead on the floor of a toilet in a Belfast cafe. He'd had a cardiac arrest and he was gone from the world for 20 minutes," she said.
"I'm so thankful to see him wake up every morning. It's a miracle he's still with us, but it's a warning to people on just how desperate things can get when you lose yourself in drink and drugs.
"I know people will say 'why didn't you do more to help him?' But believe me, we did. There's only so much you can do. While we knew things weren't quite right, he always told us he was 'ok' and that 'things weren't that bad'.
"I would hate for any other parents to have to walk in the shoes we have these past few years."
It was in September 2016 when Kathreina and husband Brendan realised just how desperate their son's situation had become.
"He was an adult, we have four other children, but we were always there for him," she said. "We didn't know how much he was struggling. Maybe he tried to hide it from us.
"The first time we nearly lost him was when he almost died after being assaulted.
"TJ was left for dead on the street," she said. "Thankfully he was found and was taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital where he received life-saving surgery to remove a massive clot from his brain.
"He had no ID on him and no one knew who he was so we knew nothing of the assault. If he had died I probably wouldn't have known for God knows how long, but he came out of his coma and was able to tell doctors who he was.
"I remember getting that call every mother dreads.
"My husband and I went straight to him. Seeing him so hurt was so tough. It broke my heart.
"We brought him home but he was still fighting with his demons and I felt I was fighting a losing battle.
"The addictions were so strong and he went back to the streets of Belfast, back to abusing his body and slowly killing himself. We felt helpless. And the cycle of addiction continued.
"He went in and out of prison for petty crimes. When he was in prison my worries actually eased. He had a roof over his head and heat and food.
"Every day, every night, the worry was constant. We wanted to help him, but we needed him to want the help. I went to bed at night not knowing if he was alive. Every now and then he would give me a call to tell me not to worry. Looking back that was easy for him to say on the phone."
A year later Kathreina almost lost TJ again.
"In September 2017 I got the dreaded hospital call again telling me my son had been found unconscious and was on life support.
"They didn't know if he would survive but again he pulled through.
"His lungs were filled with fluid. He had double pneumonia. We brought him home again. He was so thin and ill but we nursed him back to health.
"This time he stayed with us for two weeks, but he was drawn back to Belfast, to drink, to drugs, despite knowing we were there to help him through."
Another year of sleepless nights looked to have finally come to an end when, on August 31, TJ's lifeless body was found in a cafe toilet in Belfast. He'd suffered a cardiac arrest.
"We've been told he was gone for almost 20 minutes before he was put on life support at Antrim ICU," said Kathreina.
"We were taken into a room and doctors told us they didn't think he was going to survive.
"I refused to believe that. He woke, started breathing on his own again and after five weeks in hospital started his rehab.
"He's been to very dark places, but he's still here, he's fighting this and God willing he will get better day by day.
"I believe in him and hope that every mother out there going through a similar pain won't give up fighting.
"He's doing well since he came back to Cookstown with us last week. We still know every day will be a battle. At times we have felt totally helpless but today I'm feeling the pride every mother feels when they know their son is doing something brave and good. Some people go through terrible times, but the message is simple - if TJ can survive, you should never stop believing."