'I forgive the man who knocked me down' – woman (21) left paralysed as a toddler on the 18th anniversary of holiday hit-and-run

April 2001 – like a lot of other families, me, my mum, my dad, my brother and my grandmother were going over to Spain to spend the Easter Holidays with friends. We had no idea that within days, the world would have its eyes on us.

For the first few days of our holiday, everything was normal. My parents and my grandmother would spend time talking to Jose – one of our friends who spent time in Ireland in his youth – while me and my brother would make up games with their children to help us learn Spanish and them learn English.

April 9, 2001, was meant to be the same as all those other days!

On that day, we were meant to be going to the Valporquero Caves, a very popular tourist location in Leon, Madrid. A day earlier, we attended the Palm Sunday celebrations, and we all had a brilliant time.

Even when we left on the morning of the 9th, I doubt anyone thought it would take the dark turn that it did.

What people have to understand, is that I was a very energetic child. My mother still tells tales of me and my brother running everywhere – no matter the place – and so keeping us still was a challenge.

Anyway, when we arrived at the Valporquero Caves, my brother had fallen asleep, and as this was something that never really happened, my parents decided to let him sleep on. It was agreed that mum would stay by the car with him, while dad, my grandmother, and our friends would take me.

Sometime later, there was a bang.

Mum locked the doors of the car with my brother inside and rushed to the scene. I had been catapulted 10 feet into the air and was unconscious at the top of the mountain. Chelo was doing CPR on me – which she continued doing until the ambulance arrived – and everyone else was numb. After realising he had knocked me down, the man got out of his car, promised he’d go and get help, got back in his car, and left. We never saw or heard from him again.

I was taken to the nearby hospital in Leon, where I was immediately ventilated. I would remain in a coma for two to three weeks, when it would be discovered I had suffered a Spinal Cord Injury at C1-C3 leaving me paralysed from the neck down and unable to move or take a single breath for myself without the help of a ventilator.

Eighteen years on, I have had a brilliant life. I spent most of my education in mainstream, got six GCSEs and three A Levels, a few weeks ago I was mixing with royalty, and I’m nearly finished my second year of an HND Broadcast Journalism course at the Belfast Met, with hopes of taking a year out next year to concentrate on political journalism and writing.

But questions do still come to my mind when thinking about the man who knocked me down.

I understand those people who, when I tell them my story, say: “A man knocks down a three-year-old child. How can you forgive that?”

But the truth is I do.

The way I think of it is that he was young, and no matter what anyone says, he didn’t set out that day to knock down a three-year-old child.

No, I don’t feel like I got to experience being a child, especially with the restrictions on my teenage self, and I do feel like I had to grow up quicker. But in many ways, I think it’s because of the accident that I’ve got in to what I’m now doing.

Saying that, there is a part of me that is still that three-year-old who, as each day, week, month, or year passes, all she can think is: “Why did you leave?”

So what would I say to the man who knocked me down if I was come face to face with him? I’d tell him: “You knocked me down! You got out! You promised you would get help, and you got back in your car and went away! But still, I forgive you.”

Eighteen years on, it would surprise anyone how little I think of him. Letting something bad get in the way of what I want isn’t what I’m into. Letting someone get in the way of that doesn’t make sense either.

I owe my life to the Spanish doctors who treated me, and to the NHS who continue to look after me. However, I feel I have to say one final thing to the man whose actions changed my life that day: “I know it’s scary, but I have had a good life, and forgive you.

“But please, for us both, I want to know you.”

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