The Embrace Farm Accident Survivors Conference held in Portlaoise on Saturday (November 25) was well attended by farm accident survivors, their families, friends and neighbours.
Organisations represented included the Irish Farmers Association, Macra Na Feirme, Department of Agri and Food, MABS, AIB and Bank of Ireland, Chronic Pain Ireland, Mental Health Ireland and the National Rehabilitation Hospital.
Survivors and witnesses to farm accidents got their first opportunity to share how their lives have been changed since their accident and how they have adjusted to living in the months and years since their injuries.
Peter Gohery, a director with Embrace FARM, from Galway who lost his leg in a PTO accident on his farm in 2009 introduced Damien O’Reilly the MC who presents the RTE Countrywide radio programme, the panel of speakers and experts present to give advice on a range of issues.
These issues included post-traumatic stress, rehabilitation and occupational therapy, farm management, legal issues, insurance claims and mental health problems.
Telling their story were Kerri Leonard from Co Meath hurt by a tractor at six years of age, now in a wheel chair and a member of the Irish Para Olympics team, Liam O’Keeffe from Ballydesmond, Co Cork who was attacked by a bull, had 12 operations over two years in hospital and William Sayers from Strabane, Co Tyrone who lost his arm in a PTO accident.
William’s own father also lost a leg in a farm accident. William, despite his injuries, went on to run the family farm, get married, raise a family and established a successful farm machinery business in Eglinton (D and M Farm Services,) which employs 14 people.
William was an inspiring speaker and made the point that only soldiering in Afghanistan was more dangerous than farming in Northern Ireland where around 100 farmers or family members are injured every month.
Niamh O’Connell, Duhallows, Co Cork and Alison Duck, Durrow, Co Laois both spoke about their husband’s accidents and how their family life has changed.
Niamh’s husband Richard is now in a wheelchair and Alison’s husband Dominic Leonard lives with a brain injury.
Each of the personal speakers were at ease telling their stories, and about how they live with their life changing injuries but what made them emotional was speaking about the effect the accident and injury have had on their immediate families, particularly parents.
Professional speakers on the day included stand out speaker Dr Jenifer Hayes who spoke about mental health trauma.
Dr Hayes spoke about how a brain reacts to trauma and how what you are feeling is normal.
Breda Clancy APOS discussed prosthetics and Olivia Shiel from Chronic Pain Ireland also spoke. John Cuddihy, Cuddihy Adaptions from Kilkenny spoke on adapting farm machinery to allow you to continue farming.
An important request from the audience was that grants should be available to assist accident survivors to adapt farm machinery as required so that they can continue to farm their land and support their families.
A self-employed farmer can have his car adapted for a disability through grant aid, but not his machinery.
Embrace FARM is calling on the government to extend the grant scheme to include farm machinery along with personal car and dwelling house adaptions.
Survivors in the audience were concerned about obtaining insurance following an accident, that once they have an accident income protection and personal accident cover is no longer available to them, and how health insurance costs are excessive due to a pre-existing condition.
One farmer, counted the cost of his accident at being €27,000 in one year due to hiring staff and covering medical costs after he was attacked by a bull.
Kerrie Leonard was keen that children be nurtured on a farm, not excluded from it, but educated in safety around the family farm.