Meet Pádraig Hannafin, the Kerry man who recently walked for the first time in 15 years 8 years ago

Meet Pádraig Hannafin, the Kerry man who recently walked for the first time in 15 years

"I had a gut feeling straight away that I wouldn't be able to walk again."

The first Pádraig Hannafin thing tells JOE is that he's "more of a text message man," but this week he's decided to open up and tell his story.


We start the conversation by going back to 1999, when Pádraig was a 16-year-old helping out in the garden at home in Ballyferriter.

"I was just doing a bit of work in the garden, I needed to get to the other side of it so I had two options; use the gate or jump the wall. Most people would use the gate, but being a young lad I jumped on the wall, something I'd done a million times before.

"My right foot landed on it, but I slipped. I fell head over heels onto the ground and landed on my head and my body came down on top of me."

Pádraig said that he didn't feel much in that moment because he was in shock, but he knew something was seriously wrong.


"Physically I didn't feel a whole pile because I was in shock, so the only pain I had was stones burying into my face," he says.

"I went to lift my hand to move the stones away, but my hand wouldn't budge. I looked down and the arm was twitching so some of the message was coming through, but not all of it.

"I knew I'd broken my neck pretty much straight away, I had a fair idea that I wouldn't be able to walk again, I even said that to my sister Linda who found me.

"The first thought I had was 'Jesus, I wish I could press rewind for 20 seconds' but that obviously wasn't going to happen."


Padraig Hannafin football

Pádraig had broken his neck in C4 and C5 (the 4th and 5th vertebrae) level which resulted in a spinal injury that left him paralysed. He lost the use of his legs, has limited use of his arms, but no use of his hands.

He was rushed straight to Tralee General Hospital before being moved to the Mater in Dublin.

The recovery


"I spent three weeks in intensive care in the Mater. The first week is a blur but after that they inserted a metal rod and screws in my spine. Initially I had no movement below my neck, but gradually I got some movement back in my arm which was encouraging.

Pádraig was then moved to the  National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dún Laoghaire for 10 months, where he learned to feed himself, shave himself and work on his recovery.

"My family were amazing during that year. My mom Alice moved to Dublin for 12 months," he says. "She was there every day with me and after my occupational therapy sessions, she was waiting there to look after me. My sisters Linda and Pauline and my father John were so good to me during my time there, I couldn't have done it without them."

He said leaving Dún Laoghaire and going home was the toughest time for him.

"To be honest, I cried when I left the rehab because leaving the staff and the support was so difficult.


"The first year at home was so hard. Instead of going to physio every day, I was going into school. I had to get used to new carers and a new way of living. It was then it hit me that 'this is the way it's going to be from now on' which took time to get my head around."

Podge Hannafin Full

Pádraig's positivity shines through and he comes across as a guy who just gets on with it.

Asked whether he felt sorry for himself at any point, he says he didn't. His attitude is remarkable.

Pádraig now works with Rehab in Cork. He's a researcher in the communications department and he's been there for the past six years.

First steps in 15 years

An email out of the blue from the Spinal Injuries Action Association in Dún Laoghaire last year asking him to fill out a survey led to something amazing.

"They asked me do a survey for a group in Cork called Helpful Steps. I did it, sent it off and kind of forgot about it. Two weeks later they got back to me saying they got funding from Rolling Ball for the use of an exoskeleton suit, and that I was a suitable candidate for the suit."

An exoskeleton suit has bars to support the body and battery-powered motors to move the legs (you might have seen Mark Pollock using one in his brilliant documentary, 'Unbreakable'). Pádraig called to Elite Gyms, where the suit is available for use for anyone with a disability, and was assessed and fitted by physios before he was allowed to use it.

Here's the moment Pádraig took his first steps in 15 years, with the help of the suit.

"I'm 6'2" so to be able to stand up and see myself in the mirrors in the gym walking around, at my height, was just great.

"My girlfriend Anna was there and she got pretty emotional. We kissed standing up which mightn't sound like a lot, but it was nice for us because usually she's bending down to me. We got to see how we would look like if I wasn't in the chair."

Ready to go

Pádraig stresses that the suit isn't a cure, it's not something he can use every day, it won't replace the sensation in his legs, but it's extremely beneficial.

"The suit can be used as another form of physio, another form of keeping your body fit and healthy for any cures that might be coming up. It's great to avoid muscle wastage, it's great for stopping deterioration of your bones because bones need pressure to absorb calcium.

"It's also great for my mental health being able to see myself walk around the gym. When they do come up with a cure, all I'll need to do is get an operation and my body will be ready to go."

Padraig GF

This is the unquenchable positivity that Padraig has ingrained in him, and he tells JOE about an operation in Poland which has given him hope for a cure.

"The one that really caught me eye was a surgery done in Poland on a man who had a completely severed spine. They took cells from his nose and injected them into his spine and he's got some use of his legs back and some bladder and bowel function," he says.

"That's the one that has caught my attention, I know a cure won't happen today or tomorrow or even in a few years, but maybe in 15/20 years there might be something more positive."

The exoskelethon suit in Elite Gyms in Cork is available to anyone with a disability, for more information contact

Pádraig will be interviewed by Marian O’Flaherty on Radio Kerry  on Sunday, that airs at 8pm.