26 March 2006

My living hell

Sunday Life

Stephen Breen
26 March 2006

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usAn innocent survivor of a bloody loyalist feud today speaks for the first time about the barbaric gun attack that left him BLINDED and WHEELCHAIR-BOUND.

Brave David Hanley - who was just two millimetres from death after being cut down in a hail of bullets by an LVF gunman - told Sunday Life about his amazing fight for life.

"I was scared to live at the start but I am now refusing to lie down," said the 21-year-old north Belfast man.

"I have decided to tell my story because I hope it will provide hope to those who are also suffering in life."

David, whom police say has no links to any paramilitary organisation, was just three days away from his 21st birthday when he was shot.

He was walking his dogs - Cracker and Bud - when a lone LVF gunman jumped from an alleyway on the Upper Crumlin Road and shot him in the head.

The evil terrorist then stood over his prone body, pumping five more bullets into his stomach.

The round fired into David's head went in one side and emerged out the other, rupturing his optic nerves and shattering part of his brain.

David, who suffered severe internal injuries and has undergone a series of major operations since, decided to speak to us in the hope his remarkable story can provide hope and inspiration to others.

He said: "I approached death's door but God closed it for me. I think I have survived this attack because I am here for a reason. My Lord is looking down on me.

"The holes in my body are not nice and my life may be in tatters, but I'm determined to do my best to make the most of the time I have left on this planet.

"I have lost my sight but I hope I will see the light again some day. I know that God will help me through the days that lie ahead."

He hopes his story will inspire others who are suffering. "I want to tell them to keep fighting and to keep a stiff upper lip. "I suffered horrendous pain but I am refusing to take anti-depressants because I know that my Lord is with me every second of every day."

David lost his sight, the use of one of his legs, was fitted with a colostomy bag, and:
• His skull was left shattered;
• two titanium plates will have to be fitted to his head;
• both his stomach and liver were damaged;
• for seven months he could not open his mouth more than 6mm;
• had brain fluid leaking and lost a number of teeth;
• surgeons performed two major colostomy reversal operations;
• his weight dropped from 12st to six-and-a-half stone.

Added the 21-year-old: "It is a miracle that I am still here talking about what happened to me. I don't know of anyone else who has suffered the injuries I did and survived. "My dad, who lives in Texas, thought he was coming home to Northern Ireland to bury his son. When I was in intensive care my family thought I was going to die.

"My family were physically sick when they saw me after the shooting, and I know they must have thought they would never get to hear my voice again.

"Sometimes I think I'm immune to pain after everything I've been through. "Nobody can believe the way my body is building itself up . . . I will keep going and make my family proud."

David refuses to waste time on the gunman who shattered his life, saying: "I wouldn't lower myself to think about them. "They will have to answer to God, and when I'm judged I know I will have nothing to worry about.

"I obviously remember that day but I don't choose to go there because I'm still traumatised about it. "I would also like to see justice some day because I don't want these people doing to any other innocent person what they did to me."

Although generally confident of making a good recovery, he remains haunted by the fear his injuries could lead ultimately to his premature death.

"When I am gone I just want to tell people to carry on," he said. "I know it won't be the same, but I don't want them to feel the pain."

David, a big Manchester United fan, is also determined to remain as independent as possible despite his disabilities. It was initially thought that David's mum Valerie would have to give up her job to care for her him, but she remains in work as David prepares to move into his own flat next month.

He added: "God saved my life but I also could not have got through this without the doctors, my 'golden' friends and my family.

"Just because I have lost my sight doesn't mean I have lost my independence and I'm looking forward to moving into my own place next month. Once I am settled in, I intend to join a church group so that I can maybe help others and continue to pray to God.

"Before I was shot I was very active and I am now trying to build up my strength again by lifting a few weights and eating the right food. "I also hope to get a voice-activated computer and phone so that I can rest, relax and rapidly recover over the coming months.

"My mum's obviously heartbroken at what's happened and I also want to give her strength. I get by on four hours sleep a night but that's enough for me as I continue to build up my life."

Brilliance of surgery team hailed

The brilliant surgeon who saved David's life revealed that he had been just millimetres from death.

In his only interview since the LVF attempt to kill the 21-year-old, Kishor Choudhari - a consultant neurosurgeon at the Royal Victoria Hospital - said Davd was "very lucky" to be alive.

The neurosurgeon, who hopes to have a case study on David's injuries and recovery published in a medical journal, will keep in contact with his patient and his family during his long road to recovery.

Said Mr Choudhari: "In normal circumstances, I would expect someone who received the same injuries as David to die.

"But he went through a marathon operation and this is what saved his life.

"If the bullet in his head had been a few millimetres to the left or right, he would have died - he is very lucky.

"As his optic nerves were unfortunately damaged, there was nothing we could do about his sight. The few millimetres made the difference between him being alive or dead."

The neurosurgeon, who has worked at the RVH for 11 years, refused to take credit for saving the David's life.

"The fact that David is alive is down to everyone who has helped care for him at the Royal. I co-ordinated the management of his care, but everyone - surgeons, nurses and staff in intensive care, radiology and physiotherapy - have all played a part. The teamwork was excellent."

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