Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland teen paralysed by Spanish balcony fall making 'amazing progress'

Niamh McGeoghegan in hospital with her dog Brandi
Niamh McGeoghegan in hospital with her dog Brandi
Determined: Niamh before her fall
Niamh after the accident
Claire Williamson

By Claire Williamson

A mother whose daughter suffered life-changing injuries after plunging from a third floor balcony in Spain has paid tribute to her determination as she continues her recovery.

Niamh McGeoghegan (18) suffered multiple injuries when she fell at a friend's 18th birthday party in the early hours of St Patrick's Day in Benalmadena.

Her devastating injuries included three fractures to her skull, swelling on her brain, fractured ribs, a punctured lung and shattered vertebrae, which severed her spinal cord.

Niamh, along with mum Claire (47) and dad Damien (49), moved from Co Down to Spain four years ago.

Her sister Aoife (22) is studying in Belfast.

The family haven't left her side since the fall and have been amazed at her progress - which has also stunned medical staff.

Niamh doesn't remember anything from the day of the fall and has been waiting for five weeks to go to rehab to continue treatment for her injuries.

She is currently undergoing physio and is being treated in a traumatology ward where she is in a room of her own.

Niamh has also had an MRI scan of her brain, although she is still waiting for the results.

"She is mostly in very good spirits," said Claire.

"She is frustrated, she wants to get on with her life, she wants to leave hospital and come home.

"At this stage she hasn't sat in a wheelchair, but she wants to be able to start moving.

"But with the five-week wait, we are in holding.

"It's frustrating, but apart for that she is in really good form and trying to do a bit more each day.

"She is very determined and strong and just trying to build up her own upper body strength."

Claire added: "She is managing to mostly wash herself and she can sit up for short periods.

"She is managing to put bed socks on herself and we are trying to get her moving as much as we can while we wait for some kind of rehab."

Niamh's mum said the amount of progress she has made over the past couple of weeks has been "amazing" as she recovered from pneumonia and had a procedure before she was transferred to the ward she is in now.

"They moved her to the traumatology ward and for about two days she was extremely confused and agitated," she said.

"So I asked for them to give her a sleeping tablet, because she wasn't sleeping.

"Once she had a good night's sleep she really came along and her brain came along amazingly.

"They couldn't believe just that she had come on so far."

Her mum recalled the moment Niamh realised she was paralysed after she came around.

Claire said: "When she first came to the ward that she's on now, she kept saying she wanted to go home and I kept saying, 'You need to learn how to use a wheelchair you have injured your back and you can't go home until you learn to use a wheelchair'.

"After a while, I think it was six days, she woke up one morning and she said to me, 'Am I paralysed?" and I said 'yes'.

"And we had a talk about that and the implications and what she would still be able to do and how she could still carry on with her life regardless.

"She is amazing.

"It's just the way she is coping with it that has given me the strength and inspiration to carry on."

And despite her harrowing catalogue of injuries, Niamh's speech has remained "absolutely perfect", but as is common brain injuries, her tastes have changed.

Claire said: "She forgets some words and her tastebuds are different. It's hard, she doesn't like half the stuff she used to like, things like pizza, chips and chocolate used to be her favourite things.

"It's strange, we are trying to find out what she likes again.

"I said to her, 'You can get trifle' and she said 'What is that?'

"So it's just trial and error really."

Niamh has also been doing her own research into her injuries by looking up things on her phone and keeping in constant contact with all her friends in Spain - as well as her friends back home as well.

Claire added: "She has memory loss and her short-term memory isn't great.

"But the fact that she was so ill and the amount of damage to her brain, it's amazing how far she's come on."

The family said they are still overwhelmed by the amount of support they have received from home as they continue to fundraise for equipment Niamh will need when she gets out of hospital.

"Family and friends back home had a night for her to raise funds for her in Rostrevor," said Claire. "The amount of support we have at home, especially, has given us the courage to keep going and there is so much support out there, that really helps."

The family added while they hope things will start moving soon, they take comfort from Niamh's determination.

"We thought she would be well on her way to rehab and we'd be taking her home in a month or so, but now everything is up in the air," said Claire.

"It's her determination, pushing to get her sitting up, it's just us trying to do as much as we can to get her moving.

"Because once she does start rehab properly we want her to hit the ground running and we are just hoping we'll hear soon she'll be going to rehab.

"That's all we have at the moment is hope.

"But even at that, she's very determined and she will manage somehow."

However, there was a moment which brought a smile to all of their faces when the family sneaked her dog into the hospital - as she is in a private room.

Claire said: "We smuggled her dog into the hospital. We sneaked her in in a holdall bag. Brandi - she's a little terrier.

"Her face lit up. A few of her friends were in at the time - we took her out of the bag and it was great.

"It's all about her and her recovery."

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