A young woman who was left with a functioning brain but no movement in her body and no speech has said she has “indifferent” feelings for the speeding motorist who confined her to a wheelchair.
By Paddy Clancy
Lydia Branley was severely maimed for life just 18 months after she helped guide Barack Obama’s Air Force One across the Atlantic on his first flight as president to Europe.
She has “spoken” for the first time since Martin Kearney, the man who ended all her dreams, was sent to jail more than two weeks ago.
She said: “It does not make it any better that he is in prison. I am still in the same position now. I feel little for him. I am indifferent to him.”
Lydia, 27, was speaking through a unique system she has established with her family for the first time since 31-year-old Kearney, from Ballina, was imprisoned for four years, with another two suspended.
Although she still needs someone else to scratch her nose if it itches, since emerging from a coma nine months after the September 2010 crash at 150-kilometres-an-hour outside Sligo town, Lydia has learned to signal with her eyes when communicating.
Family members chant letters of the alphabet and, with Lydia moving an eye each time they reach the letter she wants, she carries on conversations.
When she wants to start communicating she makes a loud click with her tongue on the roof of her mouth to attract attention.
Amazingly, despite her agony, she retains a sense of humour and her family remembers when they first saw a hint of a smile after she “woke up” from the coma.
It was when a visiting cousin suggested Lydia would be soon able to share a bottle of Miller. She considered that funny.
Her dad, Martin, said: “When Lydia smiles she always had a bit of a dimple and it showed then.”
It was around that time that she also discovered she couldn’t eat, speak or move a single muscle. She is in Manorhamilton hospital but she is regularly allowed home to her family.
She told me at her bungalow home at the end of a tree-line avenue in a valley beneath the Dartry Mountains at Largydonnel, Kinlough, Co. Leitrim: “When I woke up I knew I could not move so I knew also that I was on a long journey. I could make no sound so I did not try.”.
Her first question through her special communications system to her younger sister Andrea was what happened.
Lydia has no memory of the accident. She heard details of it for the first time in court when gardai told the judge she was a front-seat passenger in a high-powered BMW which Kearney drove onto a slip road at 150-kilometres an hour.
He lost control and the car left brake marks for 114 metres, crossed two barriers, and tumbled and rolled for another 100 metres before striking a pole and stopping upside down.
In her first interview since the court case, Lydia said that although she still has a voice-box, her lungs cannot produce enough air to help her speak.
She said it was “extremely frustrating” to have a fully functional brain and no body movements or speech.
“I hope for progress but I accept it will be slow and laborious,” Lydia continued.
She travelled a lot before the accident, mainly to Europe and she had dreams of going further afield, to Australia and America. “I have relatives in California. Further on, I thought I would marry and have children.”
Lydia, who graduated with first class honours in civil engineering from NUI Galway, started work in March 2009 as a radio officer at Ballygirreen, near Shannon, Co. Clare. She linked communications between air traffic controllers at Prestwick in Scotland and pilots in mid-Atlantic.
She remembers on March 30 talking to the pilot of Airforce One as he crossed the Atlantic carrying President Obama on his first official visit to Europe.
“I enjoyed the work and my colleagues were great people”, she said.
She had a career to envy.
Now what does she miss most? She replied simply: “A walk.”
A Lydia Branley Trust has been established to help her family transport her between her home and hospitals where she is undergoing medical and therapy treatment.
The trust is in AIB, Ballyshannon - sort code 937185; account number 12933032.