Joanne McMahon, National Burns Unit Patient | St. James's Hospital Foundation Joanne McMahon, National Burns Unit Patient | St. James's Hospital Foundation

Joanne McMahon, National Burns Unit Patient

Joanne, mother of 5, is a qualified nurse from Castlemahon, Co Limerick.  Joanne and her family were celebrating one of her children’s confirmations in May 2014 at her home.


What happened next could easily happen to anyone, and highlights how easy it is for anyone to receive a burn, whether small, or in Joanne’s case, life threatening.


Read about Joanne’s story in her own words…

“I remember having a great day… My daughter was after coming in with her yearbook from study and we were after going through the book, and we decided we’d start the food. I have a little Bain Marie, a portable one, and I have a little stainless steel container that goes in under it to keep the water hot, to heat the food. I have it for years. And for years what I would do is put a bit of methylated spirits into it, light it and put it in underneath. On the day I did the same thing as always.”


“The sun was just glorious that day and we had a little marquee up at the back of the house, and I didn’t see that the sun camouflaged the sight of the flame and I didn’t realise it had been lit. I came along with my bottle of methylated spirits and poured it in on top of a lighting flame that I wasn’t aware was lit.”


The ball of flames that hit Joanne’s face, neck, body and hands was instant.

“I remember somebody said ‘what do we do’, and I said ‘roll’, and I can remember rolling. The next thing I was on the lawn. I’m told I walked to the lawn. I was fading in and out of consciousness.” Her husband Mike was called home from work and was not prepared for what he saw. “I didn’t expect to see what I saw when I got out there. Joanne was on the lawn and they had towels around her. Dr John Leonard (local GP) was with her and the emergency services arrived and kicked into gear. They were just wonderful. I didn’t know what to do or what to think.”


Joanne was airlifted to Cork University Hospital then transferred to the National Burns Unit here at St. James Hospital. To address swift action in the care of burns, The National Burns Unit was established at St. James’s Hospital in 1991 to cater for burn-injured patients from all over Ireland. The unit provides specialist multi-disciplinary care for the more than 200 severely burned patients who present each year.


Joanne spent 1 month in an induced coma and spent 131 days in total in the hospital before she could leave. Joanne had to re-learn how to swallow and how to walk and will require further surgeries and physiotherapy.


The National Burns Unit can take severely burned patients in through direct admission to its 14 beds, restricted at all times for burn-injured patients. Our Burns Theatre is also restricted at all times for surgical procedures for burn injured patients.  We continue to care for our patients following discharge from hospital, as our outpatient continue to attend the bi-monthly Burns Clinic and we also have a patient support group in place.


Joanne has undergone several operations since 2014 and regularly attends the Occupational Therapist and the Physiotherapist here in the hospital and has a Physio visit her house frequently too.


The National Burns Unit has a team of specialist plastic surgeons, burns nurses, physiotherapists, clinical nutritionists, occupational therapists, psychologists, social workers and microbiologists who are working together with an emphasis on patients’ functional restoration.


“I went to sleep in Cork on the 30th of May and I woke up in Dublin on the 8th of July. I remember Mike telling me this, and it sounded very vague at the time, but I suppose I was so weak at that stage, and I wouldn’t have been able to move, and I was still ventilated. In the early days it would go over my head even though I had been told, but I’d still think it was the old me in the (hospital) bed and that I was grand.”


Joanne is extremely positive and inspirational in her outlook. “People might say that I could be negative but I’m not, I just get on with everyday life. There’s nothing to do but just get on with it, I don’t have a choice. Yes, definitely, looking back on it, it was serious, but it was the care and treatment, and the prayers that got me through”


We all know that accidents can happen so easily. “Honestly, I have often thought about what I did, but it was an accident. I don’t think I could have been any more careful. I don’t think there is anything we could have done different if we were starting out again – obviously if we knew it was going to be alight – but actually, it was a total, total accident. If I said, ‘how could I have been so stupid to do that’, but I wouldn’t even say that – I had done it hundreds of times.”


Joanne, husband Mike, and friend Liam Woulfe, have set up the Joanne McMahon Thanksgiving Fund and have a series of events to raise money for the Burns Unit here at St. James Hospital. They have had overwhelming support from family, friends and neighbours in Limerick, in Ireland and from around the globe.


“My ultimate aim is to give back to the Burns Unit. I wasn’t familiar with the Burns Unit until I ended up there myself. Their care from the early acute stage to now and through to rehabilitation has been outstanding. We would just like to help the unit, so that for other people in the future – like myself who never expected to end up there – will continue to get the most advanced care available.


Mike also described the support he received from the Burns Unit staff who gave him a shoulder to lean on. “They were very compassionate to me when Joanne went in there. She was in a coma and the staff were very understanding – but they are to any family that goes in there with a loved one who is seriously ill.”

Joanne McMahon’s “Thanksgiving Fundraiser”

The fundraising drive was launched back in December 2015 with the main event 131 days later. This represents the amount of time Joanne spent here at St. James Hospital. This key event was a walk, run and cycle in Castlemahon, Limerick on April 17th 2016.


Quotes from the article are from an interview with the Irish Times. You can read the full article here


Development Plans for The National Burns Unit at St. James’s Hospital

Planned changes to the National Burns Unit’s physical infrastructure alongside new and additional equipment are in place to improve care for patients.  Infrastructural changes will include, for the first time, private facilities for discussions with patients and families, psychotherapy and physical therapy assessments and rehabilitation – emphasising respect and optimal care for our patients.  The new equipment proposed will facilitate better treatment planning, optimise surgical treatment and outcomes, and optimise rehabilitation and reintegration into the community.


You can read more about the National Burns Unit here