The wife of an American tourist who was airlifted from the top of Blarney Castle after sustaining leg and wrist injuries in a slip on its internal steps has called for safety upgrades to the historic visitor attraction.
New York-based photographer Sherrie Fryxell said she and her husband, Tom, 64, a fit bodybuilder, had to abandon their “dream vacation” to Ireland after the incident on June 23.
Tom was airlifted by an Irish Coast Guard helicopter from the top of the castle to a waiting ambulance which transferred him to Cork University Hospital (CUH).
He is now back in the US, is in excruciating pain, and facing at least six months of physiotherapy and rehabilitation.
Sherrie told the Irish Examiner the castle steps are so smooth and worn that they are slick.
“Traction tape placed on each step would have prevented Tom’s unfortunate accident,” she said.
“Additionally, Tom said the [hand] rails were too low, which not only prevented him from stopping his fall, even though his hand was on the rail during his accident, but his knee was also swung directly into it.”
Sherrie hopes that telling their story will encourage the owners of Blarney Castle to add safety features to prevent this from happening again.
“If there is a positive outcome in this preventing even just one person from experiencing the severity of the hardship and pain we have suffered, it will be well worth it,” she said.
Blarney Castle did not respond to requests for comment.
The couple, who were staying in Killarney, visited Blarney Castle on June 23, five days into their 10-day stay.
Sherrie said that, as a photographer, she is drawn to the beauty of historical castles.
“We walked up the narrow, steep, spiral stone steps to the top,” she said.
“Unbeknownst to me, the walk to the top was solely to kiss the Blarney Stone, which neither my husband nor I were interested in doing. There was nothing else to see inside the castle on the way up.
“After we stood in the long line to pass the Blarney Stone, we took in the view from the top for a few minutes, then headed back down.
“Midway down the first flight of steps, my husband’s left foot slid off the step as if it were on ice; twisting his right leg around where his right knee hit the metal rail and he fell onto the step.
“Later, he told me he heard a snap.”
She said that as her husband tried to put weight on his right leg, he collapsed, sliding down the rest of the steps to the next landing. He had torn the tendon off his kneecap.
He also broke his wrist in two places in an attempt to break his fall.
As he was being treated by medics and castle staff at the scene, a young woman slipped and fell in the same spot, but was uninjured, said Sherrie.
Tom underwent surgery at Cork University Hospital on June 25 for his injuries, with steel rods inserted in his leg and a metal plate inserted in his wrist.
Sherrie praised those who helped her in the days after as she moved their belongings from Killarney to Cork and rearranged accommodation and flights.
“I don’t know what I would have done without the help of so many compassionate strangers,” she said.
However, she added: “Although all of Tom’s information was taken by Blarney Castle employees, the owner never contacted Tom to see how he was doing which was quite upsetting. We flew home on June 28 with great difficulty.”
She said Tom had been training to get into competitive cycling but, without the use of his left arm or right leg, he requires round-the-clock care and is facing a long road to recovery.
As well as a lost holiday, she said they are also facing extensive medical bills.
Sherrie said she is sure that there are many slips on the steps, and that most people escape without injury.
However, she wants to see some safety improvements to ensure that someone isn’t more seriously injured.
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