He won’t ever forget his youngest child falling to the ground in the middle of the Two Mile House field.
Burke had three sons togged that evening for the Two Mile House footballers, two of whom, Adam and Christopher, were starting. Twenty-year old Adam was at full-forward, a mainstay on the team despite his tender years.
Back in February of 2014, Adam finished with 2-2 as Two Mile House annexed the All-Ireland club JFC title at Croke Park, the first Kildare club to win an All-Ireland.
This particular league match, against the backdrop of a “beautiful summer’s evening”, he would not finish.
Having shipped a couple of heavy tackles in the opening period, Willie recalls his son’s “grey” face when their eyes met, fleetingly, early in the second period.
A short while after, Adam lay slumped on the turf.
“He put his hand on his head and fell as gentle as you like on the ground,” says Willie.
“I jumped the fence, ran into him and took his hand. His left side was moving, but his right side never moved. His eyes were open but they were back up in his head. He was moaning and groaning.”
Adam was rushed to Naas General. A priest was called, prayers were said. The 20-year-old had suffered a devastating stroke and was given a 20% chance of pulling through. The family braced themselves for the worst.
“It was just an absolutely heart-wrenching time,” says Claire Burke, the eldest of the seven Burke siblings.
The following day Adam was taken to Beaumont. Medics informed the family that were he to come out of the induced coma, he may never walk again, may never speak again and may not recognise anyone.
He underwent two surgeries, the second of which was to remove his skull cap so to allow the brain swell naturally.
“In the days after he was brought to Beaumont, his condition deteriorated. It was heartbreaking to hear the news from the consultant every day. At that point, we just wanted him to survive,” Clare continues.
“For everyone in the family, our lives had stopped. It was all about Adam and hoping and willing that he would come through. We never left his side.”
A fortnight after being admitted, Adam woke. He could not speak and was paralysed down his right side, but used his left hand to hug his father, mother, sisters and brothers.
“That was the start,” says Claire, “that was the first ray of light.”
He’d spend a further three months in Beaumont before being transferred to the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire. Claire, a qualified physiotherapist, would routinely attend her brother’s physio sessions.
“It was six weeks after the stroke when he took his first step. He had the support of a frame, and a physio in front and behind him, but when he took that first step, it was such a glimmer of light in all the darkness surrounding us at the time. I remember hoping it wouldn’t be just one step, that he’d push on and take the second step. He did.”
Adam returned home in January of this year. From intense nine to five rehab in the NRH, he’s now dependant on community services — two to three hours a week of physio and speech and language therapy — to further progress his recovery. It’s a help, but not enough.
He can walk, albeit his right leg is much weaker than his left. His speech remains severely affected. The window of opportunity for a young brain can be up to five years after an accident. The rate of progress, thereafter, slows considerably.
The Burke family are doing everything in their power to secure Adam the assistance he requires during this period — future rehabilitation costs have been estimated around the €1m mark.
Today at 4pm in Two Mile House, Run for Adam Burke takes place. Registration is €25 and the 5/10km event is followed by a Celebrity GAA panel.
Naas GAA would like to wish the very Best of luck to all taking part in the Adam Burke fundraiser run in Two Mile House today. pic.twitter.com/fOZ1YWL10I— Naas GAA Club (@NaasGAA) September 30, 2017
For those who can’t make it to the Kildare parish, a GoFundMe page has been established.
On the morning of their All-Ireland junior club final on February 9, 2014, Willie and Catherine Burke told their son that the dream is alive. It was a phrase he would repeat when interviewed by local radio after the game.
For Adam, the dream is still alive.
Concludes Claire: “He’s in good form at the moment. We feel this event and the publicity it has garnered has really brought him on leaps and bounds in his recovery.
“We are so happy that the dream is alive because we thought the dream might be gone. Adam has made a miraculous recovery, but we want more and more of our brother back.”