Car crash coma victim recovers to claim academic awards

Paul McDermott, with the Cedar Foundation.  INLS 1311-517MT.
Paul McDermott, with the Cedar Foundation. INLS 1311-517MT.

A car crash left Paul McDermott in a coma with severe brain injury, a collapsed lung and other horrific wounds, but today the 22-year-old is travelling to Belfast to collect an award for his academic achievements.


He has been living with the after-effects of the terrifying smash which, aside from the terrible physical damage, left Paul with severe injuries to his brain.

He was left in a coma, lost all memory of both the accident itself and an entire month before-hand. After more than a week of unconsciousness, Paul began the long road to recovery. Occupational therapists, nurses and doctors from the NHS worked with him and helped him attempt to overcome his severe brain and physical injuries.

Now, Paul works with local charity ‘The Cedar Foundation’, who have developed a range of practical and simple measures to help him overcome the symptoms of his brain injury. He makes notes, keeps a meticulous diary, spends time reading and he has now overcome short-term memory loss, concentration and anxiety problems to such an extent that he has been accepted to study law at university.

He is soon to begin working with Limavady group CHAT (Creative Holistic Artistic Therapy), based at Loughview House in Ballykelly, where he will be entrusted with various administrative duties.

Such has been his determination to overcome his brain injury problems that he will be travelling to Belfast today to accept an award in recognition of his academic achievements as the best Essential Skills student in County Londonderry – ahead of other students who did not have to cope with the same brain-injury induced difficulties.

He spoke to the Sentinel this week to encourage support for local charity ‘Cedar’, without whom Paul believes he would never have been in the position where he has the opportunity to go and study law. In fact, even before the life-changing collision near Eglinton three years ago, Paul was a mechanic rather than an academic.

He has since begun a course of business studies at the North West Regional College with the assistance of a support worker provided by Cedar, and has achieved such success that he became a regional finalist in the Future of Small Business awards, and will be picking up the County Londonderry award for Essential Skills at Hillsborough Castle in Belfast today.

Speaking to the Sentinel, the Campsie man spoke about his accident, his recovery, and his plans for the future. He said: “I’m from the Campsie - Eglinton direction. I’m going to be starting work in Ballykelly. I’m going to be doing the administrative side of things with ‘CHAT’. They do counselling work and these sort of things with young people. They do a lot of work around Northern Ireland but I will be based in Ballykelly in the same place as North West Lifelong Learning (Loughview House in the former army site).

“I’m interested in studying law. I’ve had a number of conditional offers from the University of Ulster to study at Magee.

“It is three years since I was in an RTA – a road traffic accident. I was left in a coma for nine days. I was a passenger. I think it was a month before the accident that I can remember anything. I was up at the hospital for 11 months. Whenever I woke up from the coma I was kept in the hospital for a month and a half and I still remember nothing about it whatsoever. It completely wiped my memory.

“The driver had a cracked pelvis. I had six broken ribs, a collapsed lung, internal bleeding in the brain – it was pretty bad. I was lucky to survive. What do you call it, resuscitation? I had to be resuscitated three or four times. I was lucky to walk away.

“I’m 22 coming 23 now. I would have been 19 coming 20. It must have been 14 months of recovery before I could even have come so far as to come and see Cedar. It would have been 14 months after my accident before my occupational therapist would have thought about presenting me to Cedar.

“I remember bits of my recovery. I was very, very, very bad with anxiety. Even when I first started coming here (Cedar) I was still really bad with anxiety, anger and stuff like that. I wouldn’t have been able to sit still.”

Paul said: “When they (occupational therapists with whom Paul was working) thought I was right enough they referred me here. They did a lot of stuff about rehabilitation, stuff about concentrating, short-term memory. I had really bad short-term memory. It was all simple things. I always keep a diary. I keep a wall-chart in the house.

Paul continued: “To try and improve my memory a lot, I started reading a lot at night-time but after I read a chapter I would have had to write out a summary or I would have forgotten what I had read.

“It helped big-time. My short-term memory has improved so, so much through in here (at Cedar). Concentration is another big one. They have helped my concentration as well.”

Despite his ongoing success overcoming his brain injuries, his physical injuries have also required him to make additional sacrifices.

“I was a mechanic”, Paul said. “Well, I done my training in Donnelly and Taggart in Campsie and I was working from when I finished off my training with EC Cars in Eglinton, and before my accident I was with Tullyalley Car Breakers and I was sort of out on my own at the same time as well. I would have done the car breakers work four days of the week and Friday, Saturday and Sunday I would have done my own work. I would have a lot of my own work at that stage, pretty much every day. I couldn’t do that any more because of my ribs – I couldn’t do the lifting any more. That was because of the physical injuries.”

“One of my modules in my course is law. I’m studying business studies and one the modules in it is law. My law teacher is brilliant and that is one of the reasons I want to go on and study law. He’s got me really interested in it.”

The Cedar Foundation work closely with the North West Regional College and organised for a support worker to attend some of his classes and help him maintain good note-taking practices and stay organised. Paul, a self-conscious young man, was quite reticent to accept this help initially although he readily acknowledges how useful and necessary the additional support was.

He explains: “At the start I really didn’t want it so the way they set it up was for her to be in the class and she said she was there for everybody, but really she was there for me, but once I was in there a week or so it didn’t bother me any more. I started to appreciate how helpful she was. I was very grateful. In the first year I hadn’t a clue, I was just coming in after the injury. I didn’t want it but I definitely needed it. Now, I am a bit more in the way of working.”

At the age of 19, Paul McDermott the hard-working mechanic was hospitalised and made comatose after a terrible car accident, sustaining severe brain injury in the process. By age 22, he is an award winning student with the opportunity to become a lawyer. A remarkable recovery indeed.

He said: “I don’t think I ever would have been in the position to go and study law without the help I’ve had from Cedar. I would definitely encourage everyone to support the Cedar Foundation, whether it’s through donations or anything else.”