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Thanks to warrior mum Jo Worgan for creating collage.

15 September 2013

WARRIOR MUM - JULIA DONAL'S JOURNEY

Head Injury (RTA) Stroke, Learning Disability.

Two years ago I started a writers group at the local library. We met on the 3rd Wednesday of every month and soon people began to trickle in. One day, Julia, a 74 year-old great-grandmother, came to join us and she soon became a valued member of our group.
Julia picked up my book
With a Little Help From my Friends, which I was in the process of re-writing and when she discovered my daughter, Marie, had a learning disability, she told me her daughter, Catherine, was also disabled - and from then on we discovered we had much in common.
Julia is one of the most extraordinary people I have ever met. As her story unfolded the hairs stood up on the back of my neck and when you read her story you will no doubt understand why.  



CATHERINE

There’s a little girl who stayed when Alice came back home
And there’s a small child in wonderland alone
She didn’t mean to go away
 She only left the house to play
 And now she sits in silence
Sleeping in the stars at night in golden slumber breathing light
A lean gazelle that’s taken fright, afraid, to come back home.

Written by, Catherine’s Brother Tony.
 

 Julia's Journey
 
Julia Donal - Michelle Daly's Warrior Mums
"From nowhere the screams of my 11-year-old son, Tony, pierced the bright, sunny afternoon. As I turned, he was running towards me with his arms out-stretched, eyes bulging with terror. “Mum-Mum-come-quick, our Cathy’s been run over” My heart was racing, pounding, as we both ran frantically back towards the road where a crowd of people were already gathered. I pushed my way through and couldn’t believe what I saw before me. My six-year-old daughter, my beautiful little girl, was lying in the middle of the road. Blood was coming out of her nose and her ear, her leg was bent halfway up her back and her eyes were tightly shut. I thought she was dead."


Julia, I can't imagine what you went through on that day. It sounds like a nightmare.
Julia Donal - Michelle Daly's Warrior Mums
Catherine on the right just before accident
I wished it was a nightmare I could wake from but sadly, it was all very real. Only two hours earlier I'd held my little Catherine's hand and walked her back to school after lunch. She'd chattered away to me and when we reached the school gate she ran inside to her friends and turned to wave at me. If only I'd known when she waved me goodbye from the playground that day, shouting 'Bye Mum, see you after', that it would be the last time she would ever talk to me; that she would be hit by a lorry on her way home from school and left with severe brain damage.

That day I bent down to where she lay in the road and was about to take her in my arms when I was restrained by some of the parents at the scene. A woman I didn't recognise looked at me pitifully and said it was best not to touch her. I tried to fight them off but my arms were being held so firmly that I couldn't move them. I dropped my head in despair and sobbed as I looked at the body of my baby lying helpless and injured on the road. 
And then the sound of the siren brought me to my senses as the ambulance arrived and my caring captors released me. Two paramedics jumped from the ambulance, opened the back doors and brought out a stretcher. I watched them crouch down on the tarmac and gently place the lifeless body of my little girl upon it. It was so awful. I followed them into the back of the ambulance as they placed her on the narrow bed, the doors slammed shut and we sped away.
The emergency siren blasted all the way to the hospital, shooting through red lights in order to save my daughter's life. I knelt down beside her on the ambulance floor and held her tiny hand, praying that she wouldn't die; God, how I prayed that day and many more after.

When we arrived at the hospital, a medical team had been standing by to meet us. Gentle hands transferred Catherine onto a trolley and my little girl was quickly rushed into an examination room. 
They wouldn't let me go with her. No matter how much I pleaded with them they wouldn't let me follow. I was frantic. I was shown into a waiting room where I sat alone with my head in my hands, out of my mind with worry. It was a while later that I heard my husband's voice asking where Catherine and I were. The nurse brought him to me and we just looked at one another, too grief stricken to speak. He walked toward me and we held each other tight, united in the fear and uncertainty of whether our beautiful daughter was going to live or die.

Soon a doctor came into the room and gave us his diagnosis. He said that Catherine had suffered multiple and appalling injuries. Her condition was very serious and they would have to operate straight away. 
So we waited and waited and the hours sped by. The longer we waited the more anxious we became. Then at last - it was about eight o' clock in the evening when the doctor came into the room. We could tell by the look on his face that it wasn't good news.
"I'm afraid your daughter's condition is very serious", he said sympathetically. "She has suffered severe head injuries resulting in irreparable damage to her brain. The femur in her right leg is broken and all we can do now is make her as comfortable as possible. She may not survive the night, but if she does, the next 24 hours will be crucial. I suggest that you inform the rest of your family. I'm sure they would like to see her".
I remember staring at him. I couldn't believe what he was saying. He said that our bright, mischievous little girl was probably going to die. But he didn't know her like we did. I thought he must have been mistaken. I mean, doctors always paint things darker than they really are. "No! No! No!" I screamed. "You're wrong. I don't believe you!"
Just then a staff nurse came into the room with a small glass of water and a white tablet. She offered them to me and said "Please, please take this. It will help you. You'll be going to see Catherine soon and I'm sure she wouldn't like to see her mum so upset". I told the nurse I didn't want any drugs. I didn't want to be put to sleep. I just wanted to see my little girl. She assured me the tablet wouldn't put me to sleep; it would just calm my nerves, so I took it.

You must have been desperate to see Catherine and hold her in your arms.
Oh, I'll never forget when we first saw her. Catherine's father and I stood on either side of her bed in complete silence. The tiny figure on the bed looked nothing like our daughter. Her bandaged head seemed to have swollen to twice its natural size. Her forehead and eyelids were black and blue; her very swollen leg was in an iron cast. I reached down and clutched her tiny hand in mine. Her father was leaning on the bed with his head bowed silently sobbing. We were in utter despair - our daughter was going to die and there was nothing we could do about it.

How on earth had it happened? 
If only we could turn back the clock. 
A split second was all it had taken. 
I had agreed to allow her to walk home with her friends because I knew there was a lollipop man in attendance so I knew that she would be in safe hands.  We learnt that day that as Catherine was being crossed over the carriageway by the lollipop man and whilst she stood in the grassy area of the middle section with the other children waiting to be safely led across, excitement at seeing a familiar face on the other side of the road had erased all caution as she broke away from the group of youngsters and ran across to greet them.

 You had other children you had to think about too, didn't you?
Catherine was the youngest of four, with two older sisters and a brother. My eldest daughter Christine was thirteen years old, my son Tony was eleven, and my daughter Juliann was eight. Catherine had just had her sixth birthday the week before. Neighbours jumped to our rescue and took them in that day. I knew they would all be watching out the window, noses pressed to the glass, waiting for our return. You know how hopeful children are. They'd be expecting us to walk through the door any minute with Catherine, having nothing more than a bandaged leg. 
After an hour or so of sitting beside Catherine's hospital bed, the ward sister said it might be a good idea if my husband and I went home and told Catherine's brother and sister’s how ill their little sister was. We couldn't leave her side. The doctor told us our baby girl could die during the night but she assured us that Catherine would be in safe hands. We left the hospital in a daze and got a taxi outside.
We were eager to see our children but not looking forward to what we had to tell them. What could we tell them? We certainly couldn't tell them the truth about how serious their sister's injuries were. Soon after we arrived home we told them we all had to pray very hard for their sister. It was with a heavy heart that we kissed them goodnight and sent them off to bed.  

The pain was so unbearable. I felt as if my heart was bleeding. My husband and I stayed up all night. We couldn't go to bed; sleep was impossible.
We had no phone but rang from a public call-box on the corner of our street, throughout the night. I prayed the Police wouldn't knock on our door. We wouldn't even need to open it - we knew what their presence would mean. My husband rang the hospital before we left and was told by the ward sister that Catherine’s condition had worsened slightly and her condition was critical. When we arrived at the hospital the doctor said that she had been taken off the breathing machine but that was all she could do- her condition was critical and could turn fatal at any time and she had slipped into a coma, which could last days weeks even months- we were devastated.

The next day I was in a trance as I got the children ready for school. As soon as they left I got the bus down to the hospital. It was a longest thirty minutes.
There was still no change. Catherine had a feeding tube through her nose and I was longing to lift her into my arms but we could only hold her hand and speak to her through our tears.

After our tears subsided, although there was many more to come, Catherine’s father and I had to decide what we were going to do. There was no way we could leave Catherine on her own in a coma; one of us would have to be there talk to her and let her know we were right beside her. However, we had three other children at home who needed us and they were suffering as well. We were a unit of six and one was missing so we were incomplete. We decided that I would be with Catherine in the daytime and be home for my children coming home from school and her father would call in to see her on his way home from work. That way one of us would be there if the worst came to the worst.

It's said if God takes us to it then God sees us through it, but I don't know how I would have coped with all you had to bear.   
Looking back, I don't know how I got through it. I remember a few days after the accident getting off the bus a stop before the hospital and going into the Catholic Church. To the right of me and just inside a small alcove, there stood a statue of St Jude; my aunt always told me he was the patron saint of lost causes, so I knelt on the tiny wooden support, clasped my hands and prayed. God, how I prayed. I begged St Jude to ask God to spare Catherine; to let her live. "We don't care what's wrong with her" I whispered. "We will always look after her - just please, please - don't let her die".

I left the church and took the short walk to the hospital, hoping against all hope that a miracle had occurred. I thought I would walk into the ward and my husband, Tony, would be standing there with a big smile on his face and he'd say, "Catherine's awake! She's awake - and asking for you". Then Catherine would look at me and say, "Hiya Mum, when can I come home?" I hurried on into the building and towards the ward. I couldn't wait to see her. When she comes home, I thought, I'll take her to the cake shop and buy her the biggest custard tart she has ever seen, because that was her favourite. But of course I'd let my imagination run away with me. When I reached my daughter's bed she was lying in the same position on her back with her eyes tightly closed. 

The hospital gave us a parent's room, which consisted of basic essentials, two single beds and facilities to make a cup of tea but we really didn’t bother with it because we were both too anxious to relax.
One month went by, then two and three and four and I went to the hospital every afternoon, always making sure I was home for the children when they returned from school. There was never any improvement; Catherine was still in a coma.

You must have been emotionally and financially drained.
We were. I had to leave my part-time job and my husband lost his job because of the time he had to take off work, so we were hit from all sides. But just when we thought we'd hit rock bottom and were totally and utterly burnt out, we walked onto the ward one day after Catherine had been in a coma for six months. My heart started pounding when I saw the ward sister and priest standing at Catherine's bed. We hurried towards them only to be met with a beaming smile.

"Look" the ward sister said, "she's coming out of her coma!" 

Julia Donal - Michelle Daly's Warrior Mums
Coming out of her coma after 6 months
Catherine’s father and I looked at one another in disbelief and our faces must have glowed with happiness. We were elated and so full of joy; I thought I was going to burst.

The doctor walked briskly into the ward, eager to see his little patient. He stood at the foot of her bed then he smiled and said, “Hello Catherine, how are you? It’s lovely to see you!” She stared at him blankly. He examined her and said “She’s in a comatose condition at the moment. The best things to do are talk to her and keep talking to her as you’ve been doing all this time. I’ll arrange for a specialist to come and do an assessment".
We sat either side of Catherine's bed and held her hand. She looked at us with a vacant stare. At that moment we didn't care what she could or could not do. She had been so ill - what did we expect? 

When we went home and told the kids the news they were so excited asking when their baby sister could home. I told them what the doctor told us, that before she could come home she would have to be seen by a specialist and that wouldn't be until after Christmas.
I will never forget that glorious day- the day she came out of the coma- it was the 19th December
 We didn’t mind waiting to bring her home. We’d already waited six agonising months for this day

On Christmas Day Christine, Tony Jr, Julianne, her father and I all sat around Catherine's bed. As each of us spoke to her she just looked at us with no signs of recognition; she just lay there propped up with pillows.
When the nurse came to change her there were no signs of protest, her arms and legs just flopped like a rag doll? Still, for all she had been through she was a picture of beauty. Her dark thick hair curled around her face. Her eyes, though dull, were tinted green and her skin was lovely and pink. She was indeed, though awake, a sleeping beauty. 

The New Year began and there was no great improvement in Catherine's condition. She still had to have a feed tube inserted through her nose because she was unable to swallow. I hated it and told the ward sister so but she smiled and said that I need to learn how to insert it before Catherine came home. That made me nervous, and then she assured me a district nurse would call four times a week to give me help and support, which made me feel better.

How did Catherine's assessment go?
Catherine’s assessment was on 5th February 1973. That day we met the specialist (paediatric neurologist) is another experience etched in my mind. 
We got to the hospital early and waited anxiously for his arrival. He walked into the ward and approached Catherine’s bed, acknowledging my husband and I with a nod of the head. Then he pursed his lips together and stood for a while at the bottom of our daughter's bed looking at her, and then, at last, he proceeded to examine her.
We stood quietly as he looked deep into her eyes with his special torch. When he pinched her hands and feet she moved slightly. He examined her chest and looked into her ears.
As he straightened himself up he sighed deeply and shook his head from side to side; then he looked at her father and I and said coldly: 

"The best advice that I can give you both is to go home and take care of the three children you have. The kindest thing you can do for this child is to have her placed in some kind of care home and let someone else take care of her. She will never be able to do anything for herself and will always have to depend on someone. She will never walk, talk, or be able to feed herself. All in all she will be totally dependent on others for the rest of her life. She will always be in nappies and as far as the quality of her life is concerned - it will be non-existent".

 Her father and I were shocked. It wasn't about the assessment results, it was about his cold and condescending attitude - and the way he'd spoken about Catherine. 

I think he was right to offer you a choice; an option to walk away from the long uncertain road you were about to embark on. There may well have been some that would have taken that advice, but I agree, it was the delivery of the information that was so hurtful.
My husband stared at the doctor and I could see his fists clenched. I put my hand on his arm to restrain him and said quietly. “We’re not going to take any notice of him. Just wait till we get her back home, we’ll get her better; just wait and see” Then the specialist picked up his brief case from the chair, nodded to us and walked away.
That same day the ward sister informed us she was going to make arrangements for Catherine’s return home.

So that wonderful information wiped away the dark cloud the doctor had left behind him.
We were elated. Her father and I knew deep down that this was going to be an uphill struggle, but we were more than ready to take on the challenge and were going to take it day by day.
The day we brought her home in an ambulance her father carried her into the front room and I propped her up with a couple of pillows on the settee. She was all ready and waiting for her brother and sisters when they arrived home from school. When they all came bursting in, it didn’t matter that she couldn’t put her arms around them; they put their arms tightly around her. They just saw her as we saw her, she was our Cathy and she was back in the fold again.
As I walked past the mirror, I stopped and stared at the face that looked back at me; I looked so old. The stresses of the last few months were beginning to take their toll. I was thirty-four years old but I looked much older. As I turned away from the mirror, a thought occurred to me of how I was to cope with Catherine’s daily needs. Then a voice seemed to say, Do exactly what you did each time you brought a new baby home - start from the very beginning!  I felt as if a light had gone on in my head. Thank you God, for answering my prayers!
Julia Donal - Michelle Daly's Warrior Mums
Catherine recovering at home


So you all managed to get back to some kind of normality. You slowly introduced Catherine to tinned baby food and do away with her feeding tube you so hated, but there weren’t any great developments in her recovery were there, and then two years later, as if you hadn’t been through enough, your husband died in his sleep.
Yes he just couldn’t cope and found it so very difficult to accept Catherine’s condition because he couldn’t see any future for her. I tried to explain that her age was on her side but he still found it very difficult and seemed to enter a world of his own - he was broken-hearted.

That was such an awful time and I didn’t know how I could ever recover from that but self pity is a luxury and I had four children who relied on me so I carried on as best as I could. Three years passed and then I met a lovely man. Not everybody gets a second chance but I did. He took on Catherine as if she was his own and he was absolutely marvelous with her and all of my children. Bill and I married in 1980.                                                                                                  
And then together you set out on a whole new venture, didn't you? 
Bill was reading the newspaper one evening and came across an article about The Insitute for the Achievement of Human Potential which was based in Philadelphia and had set up The British Institute for Brain Injured Children in Somerset.
The Doman Delacato Therapy, in principal, patterns the brain into learning skills; skills that Catherine already had before the accident.


The program for "brain-injured" children included:
  • Patterning – manipulation of limbs and head in a rhythmic fashion
  • Creeping – forward bodily movement with the abdomen in contact with the floor
  • Crawling – forward bodily movement with the abdomen raised from the floor
  • Receptive stimulation – visual, tactile and auditory stimulation
  • Expressive activities – e.g. picking up objects
  • Masking – breathing into a rebreathing mask to increase the amount of carbon dioxide inhaled, which is believed to increase cerebral blood flow
  • Brachiation – swinging from a bar or vertical ladder
  • Gravity/Antigravity activities – rolling, somersaulting and hanging upside down.
To be able to apply the therapy we had to have seventy volunteers every week seven days a week. We approached our local parish priest and he put us in touch with a person who was helping some young people toward achieving The Duke Of Edinburgh- so in no time at all we acquired most of our volunteers; mine and Bill’s family also put their names on our rota and without them we just wouldn’t have been able to do the therapy. 
Catherine made really good progress. She could taste her food- her mouth had been paralyzed because she had had suffered a stroke just after the accident -she could suck through a straw and with a little help could blow her birthday candles out. 
Like spatial awareness, we did this by placing her into a large wicker chair that hung from the ceiling and spun her around. Then, regaining her Taste buds by putting sour and bitter things on her tongue then sweet things. Tactile on her face, hands and feet by rubbing gently a small piece of rough material then smooth. Learning to walk on a wooden beam for balance. Present flash cards at least eight times a day- which amongst other equipment and with the help of friends of we made ourselves.
Julia Donal - Michelle Daly's Warrior Mums
Julia Donal - Michelle Daly's Warrior Mums                   


Julia Donal - Michelle Daly's Warrior Mums


We did the therapy from 1981 to 1985 because by then Catherine was turning into a young woman and lost all interest in the programme so we brought it to an end.







              
We got on with our lives and over the years Catherine brought us so much joy. I had my bad days, of course. The sadness would wash over me like a waive, especially when all the family were together. I’d look at my grown up children and grandchildren and Catherine beside them and think of all she's missed out on. Having said that I've made sure she's lived as full a life as possible.
 
Julia Donal - Michelle Daly's Warrior Mums
In 2001, Professor Tarn from Liverpool University presented Catherine with an achievement award. She had been nominated for the award by Person Shaped Support Agency (PSS), in Liverpool, who were the supporting agency at the time. Bill and I were so proud of her as she walked to the professor herself and accepted her award from him. Her father would have been proud of her too.

Julia Donal - Michelle Daly's Warrior Mums
 Catherine became a member of the Thursday club which was a club for young people with learning difficulties. Bridge Chapel was formed by a very special lady Lynne Lloyd who also had a daughter with a learning disability. Lynne and her friends from Bridge Chapel bought a bungalow specifically for people with special needs. I was delighted when Catherine was offered a placement at the bungalow, where she would have 24 hour support. I had just celebrated my seventieth birthday, so it made sense to accept. 

That was a big step for all of you. 
I found it was very hard to cope when the time for Catherine to leave home. It was so difficult having to go into her bedroom every morning to open the window as I always did and still do. The changes were so hard to come to terms with; two chairs at the dining table instead of three. For those first couple of weeks I still laid three places for dinner. The worse time of course was when four o clock came and Catherine didn’t come home from the day centre.
Over the following months, and for a long time after she’d left, I felt as if I was living in a different world. Since my other children had grown up and left home, Catherine, Bill and I had always been together.
I bought her a new bed and furnishing for her new home because I couldn’t part with any of her belongings. I felt so lost and so guilty; guilty because I just couldn’t cope with her anymore. 

This past June it will be forty one years since my daughter had the accident.
She has slowed down like we all do as we get older, but hasn’t lost her bright and happy personality. She still has a severe learning disability, uses a wheel chair when she's out, though thankfully, she has a mobility car, which her support worker drives, so her life is as full as it possibly can be. She goes shopping, bowling and absolutely loves swimming, always accompanied by her support worker.
I ring and speak to her every morning and every evening. I just couldn’t start the day without knowing she was alright. She listens and speaks to me in her own way, with meaningful sounds and encouragement from her support worker. And she comes home for lunch twice a week, so she is still very much part of the family.

Bill and I will always be eternally grateful to The Trustees of the Bridge Chapel, in Liverpool, for providing a peaceful and secure home for Catherine. 
One thing that I do know is that everything the trustees do, they do it for the love of the Lord.


Come on now, Julia, don't forget to tell us about your other achievements too!

Well, in the year 2000 at the grand old age of sixty, I enrolled at Liverpool Community College. Over the two years that I was there, I took English, English literature, and Creative writing and I managed to get three GCSEs.
 My family were so proud you’d have thought that I had earned a first class degree, which proves it’s never too late to learn. I was fifty before I learned how to swim, so that speaks for its self doesn’t it?

Finally, do you think you have come to terms with what happened on that awful day back in 1972?

When Catherine suffered that terrible accident, her father and I couldn’t understand why. Why our little girl? We prayed so hard and so earnestly for her speech to be returned but it never happened. Nevertheless, her life was spared and we were so thankful for that. I vowed that no matter what her injuries were we would always look after her, which we did to the best of our ability. It was too much for Catherine's father, and as time went on he just couldn’t cope anymore. Looking back to that terrible day when I found him dead in his bed, I feel he was released from his torment. I will always hold a special corner in my heart just for him. 

                 



@copyright No part of this blog can be printed without the author's permission


6 comments:

  1. Oh my goodness, I'm a complete wreck Julia after reading this, I had to take a break half way through to compose myself.

    My heart breaks both for the mummy at the side of the road and for the child lying in it. As a mum myself I can imagine how devastating that must have been for you!

    What a fabulous mum you are and what a lucky girl your daughter is to have had such dedicated parents (step dad included)

    God bless you all

    Kimmie x

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    1. Julia19:18

      Hi Kimmie, first of all just want to apologize for the long delay in replying to your very kind comment regarding my blog about my daughter Catherine. Yes, i think every mother would understand the emotional pain and feeling of hopelessness when their child is in danger and after reading some of the other warrior mums blog's they to have had their share, some more than others and i will remember them all in my prayers.
      Kind Regards Julia xx

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  2. What an amazing story. How you turned such a tragedy into something so positive.

    I can't even begin to imagine what you must have felt when you saw your daughter lying there in the road - heartbreaking.

    Also I agree with Kimmie your a fabulous mum and you found the strength to get through it all. Total inspiration xxx

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  3. i'm so glad I waited for a quiet moment with a cup of tea to read this incredible post. What an amazing woman and mother to come through such heartbreaking tragedy with your positivity in tact.
    I am left shaking with emotion.

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  4. How do I start to comment on this story? For once I am lost for words. Julia you are a truly remarkable lady and my heart goes out to you and your loss. I cannot begin to imagine what you went through in seeing your child on the road that day. I have two little boys, my eldest is 6 and I cannot bear to think about this happening to him. I read the post with tears streaming down my face. You are a remarkable woman with true inner strength. God bless you for telling your story. I have now downloaded your book off Amazon and look forward to reading it. Your story will touch so many people. You have a lovely family, I wish you all the best.

    Jo

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    1. Julia19:04

      Hi Jo, first of all i would like to apologize for such a long delay in answering to your lovely comment regarding my daughter Catherine's accident- yes it was a total nightmare when it happened and i must confess that i still have bad days especially if i meet- when I'm out shopping- some of the girls who she used to go to school with because they are middle aged mums now with children and grandchildren of their own which was something that Catherine missed out on- both her sisters are grandmothers! but having said and because of the wonderful young women who support her she leads a full and happy life to the best of her ability and I thank God for that- she still has her happy and mischievous nature and is well loved by all who know her. Kind regards Julia x

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