FOR an Enniskillen student, the past few weeks have marked a major stage in his recovery from a rare illness.
18-year-old Jack Ritchie, from Enniskillen and a student at Portora Royal was on holiday with his family in Portugal in August last year when he first began getting headaches and feeling ill.
Initially, he and his family thought it may have been a sinus infection – it later came to light that it was more complicated than that: Known as a sub-dural empyema, essentially, it was a bacterial infection within the skull.
Jack had to go through a range of operations and recovery: At its worst, he was in an induced coma for six days, and upon waking up, had lost his speech, swallow reflex and control of the right side of his body. As a keen sportsman, the physical effects were a particular source of anxiety.
Just two weeks ago, and around six months after first falling ill, however, Jack laced up the boots and had his first training session with Ballinamallard United U18s. A remarkable recovery after what had been a difficult and uncertain time.
“We got the plane home on a Saturday from Portugal and the pressure of the plane had a really negative impact and one of my sinuses tore – all the stuff (bacteria) went into my brain then, basically,” Jack told the Fermanagh Herald.
After a scan at the South West Acute Hospital, he was brought to the Royal in Belfast where after twenty minutes he was rushed to the operating theatre.
Recounting his story at Portora Royal, where he was allowed to return to repeat his sixth year after his illness in November, Jack remembers very little of that period.
“On the Thursday morning, after an operation on Wednesday night and I was put into an induced coma for six days. When I woke up from that I couldn’t speak, I had no strength – and that stayed like that for maybe three or four days.
“I thought my right arm was broken – I was on so much medication that I was thinking crazy things. I lost my swallow reflex so I started on liquids, I could drink small bits of water and I didn’t eat for ages until things started to slowly come back. I had to go through physio to help my arm and speech therapy and things then started to gradually come back after a few weeks.”
The rare illness was such that Jack was told that it was the first case many within the Royal had seen. While the recovery period was frustrating – ‘I didn’t know why I couldn’t speak, I used to shout a lot apparently – punch and kick things in frustration’ – the overarching feeling was obvious.
“The one thing I was most worried about was not being able to go back and play football. I thought that if I couldn’t do sport, well…”
Just a few weeks ago – however – he returned to training with the Ferney Park side.
“It was weird to put a pair of boots on. It felt good – it wasn’t that competitive – but to get playing a match and seeing how I could do was great.”
Jack is now studying Geography, PE and Drama at Portora. While he is back training with Ballinamallard U18s, he has one more operation in December, he is still a year away from a full competitive game.
And that is what is keeping him motivated: “I’m definitely raring to get back on the pitch.”
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