Vicky Phelan reveals how surviving tragic accident gave her strength she needed

In an in-depth new interview with Ruairí McKiernan on the Love and Courage podcast cervical cancer campaigner Vicky Phelan discusses the car accident in which she lost her friends; how she had to fight for proper treatment following the accident; her advocacy for her daughter; and how she channels anger into activism. 

Cervical cancer campaigner Vicky Phelan has revealed how painful challenges in her youth helped give her the strength she needed to stand up for those affected by the CervicalCheck scandal.

In a highly personal conversation with Ruairí McKiernan on the Love and Courage podcast, the Kilkenny-born mother of two speaks candidly about being in a car accident at the age of 19 in which three of her friends died, including her boyfriend at the time. The accident, which occurred during a student exchange in France, left her  facing a difficult period of rehabilitation in hospital after breaking 70% of the bones on the left-hand side of her body.

“People often ask me when they meet me ‘how are you doing what you are doing? How can you keep campaigning, and be so positive?’ but you see before all of this I’ve had so many things before that happened, like the accident that helped me realise that I’m not invincible and life is not fair. These things, they either make you or break you. I had to grow up very fast. It shapes you, something like that. You see the fragility of life.”

Speaking about her experience in an Irish hospital after returning home from France on a stretcher, she said the attitude of the orthopedic surgeon charged with her care left her having to learn to fight for  the treatment that her French doctor had prescribed

“He looked at my chart and rubbed his hands together and said “right, we’ll have you out of that bed tomorrow” and I said “no you won’t” and he looked as if he was hearing things as he wasn’t even looking at me when he was speaking to me.”

The same surgeon started bringing junior doctors on his visits to see Vicky to use her as a case study, which left her feeling “like a piece of meat”.  On the advice of a friend, she decided to stand up to him again.  “You never asked me permission. I’m not giving you permission to do this any longer.”

“He wrote in my report that I had an attitude problem. I lost three of my friends, including my boyfriend, and I had all these injuries and all he could say was that I had an attitude problem.”

“That was my first foray into standing up for myself against an authority figure.”

Vicky was the first in her family to go to college and says she is proud of her working-class background.  Speaking of her experiences with the doctor after her accident she says “I wonder often if my parents had  been doctors or lawyers would he have spoken to me the way he did?”

Years later Vicky’s daughter Amelia was born with a congenital disorder. This left her with a visual impairment and scaring on the brain, which later resulted in her experiencing epileptic seizures. “For the first two years of her life, I was up and down to Crumlin every six weeks. I was in the local hospital in Waterford three times a week. Not what you want for your first baby. That was the first time in my life I experienced depression.”

While Vicky says the support her daughter receives for ongoing medical problems is generally very good, she says having to advocate for her over the past 13 years has given her the tools she has needed to be able to campaign for the hundreds of patients and families affected by the Cervical Check scandal.

 “I’ve been doing this for years. I don’t see it as any different to what I’ve been doing all my life, it’s just on a bigger scale.”

When it comes to facing the cover-ups surrounding the Cervical Cancer scandal, Vicky says she does get angry but prefers to focus on channeling it.

“I’ve been down that road of being angry and I know where that goes. It goes into depression so I have to not go there. I have to channel it. That’s why I took the court case. When I realised there were other women that’s what made me fight that this went public. I found it cathartic to be able to talk about it.”

 “This isn’t about me. It’s about everybody, standing up and taking responsibility for your health, asking questions and advocating for a better healthcare system. We all have the responsibility to do that”.

Although she is relatively well at the moment and is undergoing a range of treatments, Vicky feels her time is limited. “I might have 12 months, 24 months. If I get 2 years I’ll be delighted.”

“You have to take things one day at a time. I am going to live my life for as long as I can, as well as I can.”

You can listen to the full interview with Vicky Phelan on Ruairí McKiernan’s Love and Courage podcast, which is available for free to listen to via podcast apps and online at Soundcloud and YouTube. See www.loveandcourage.org

 

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