life support  | 

Cousin of pensioner Tom Niland brutally attacked by burglars says they've 'taken his life away'

'I’ve said before you couldn’t appeal to people like that because they’re not like us and don’t have a conscience, but you would hope someone they know will come forward'

Tom Niland

Alan Sherry

The cousin of Sligo pensioner Tom Niland has said his attackers have effectively taken his life away as he remains on life support in hospital seven weeks after being brutally assaulted by a burglary gang at his home.

Tom’s cousin Michael Walsh said there has been no real improvement in Tom’s condition and doctors had been close to recommending taking him off life support but then detected brain stem function.

The 73-year-old fell victim to a savage assault and robbery when he answered the door to three men at his home in Skreen on January 18.

The three attackers remain at large.

Michael said Tom remained on life support yesterday and there was no sign of improvement.

“They haven’t killed him, but they’ve taken his life away. He has no life and he will not have a life after this,” he told Sunday World.

He said while he believes the people who carried out the attack have no conscience, he hopes people close to them might come forward to gardai.

“I’ve said before you couldn’t appeal to people like that because they’re not like us and don’t have a conscience, but you would hope someone they know will come forward.

"Three of them actually assaulted him, we don’t know if there was a fourth in the car, but you’d imagine somewhere somebody saw them. There had to be blood on them or signs of something. Maybe some of their family or someone like that I would appeal to them to come forward.”

Michael Walsh and his daughter Michelle Haran

He said the type of people who attack elderly people in their homes have destroyed countless lives around the country but don’t care.

“So many people around the country get badly assaulted and they’ll never be the same again. Life will never be the same again for them.

“There’s bound to be people in their [the attackers] lives. They have family or loved ones who they wouldn’t want that to happen to, but they seem to go into this psychopathic frenzy.

“They’re so different from us. Whatever made them that way I don’t know. I know a lot of people are taking drugs before they go on these robberies but that still wouldn’t excuse it.”

He said the family had got their up hopes recently when they noticed movement in Tom’s muscles but nurses told them it was just a reaction to drugs they had given him and not a sign of his condition improving.

“There’s no real improvement. They put him on some treatment twice. It goes on for about five days and he always seems to be slightly different after it.

“It affects his muscles and nerves. He started moving his head slightly but he’s not conscious. There’s some kind of reaction with the chemical they give him. The nurses have told me it’s kind of reflex movements, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything. He’s not really responding. He’s not coming around or anything.

“We initially thought this is brilliant, but they were very quick to tell us not to get our hopes up.

“You just look at all these little things and you hope but there’s nothing really happening. He’s still on life support.”

Michael said doctors recently had to give Tom a tracheotomy.

“The respirator tube was going through his mouth, but they changed that because you can only leave someone on that for a certain period of time because it begins to affect the mouth and throat and you get sores and stuff like that.

“They did a tracheotomy opening his neck and put the tube in there to help him. He needs that to breathe.

“There’s no movement in his hands or any response. His hands just stay open.”

Michael added that doctors have carried out a number of response tests on Tom to see if there is brain stem function.

Gardaí carrying out searches at Skreen, Co Sligo, where a gang attacked Tom Niland (73) at his home on January 18

“If there is no brain stem function then they can turn off the respirator with our permission. When they do that something can kick in and he might be able to survive, but might not.

“They have to do three tests before they can legally turn that off. They did two and got no response and the third one was inconclusive. It was very close to them actually deciding to knock off the machine and seeing if he would start [breathing on his own]. They decided they’d try him on a chemical and from then on they established there is brain stem function. There’s a little spark but there’s nothing happening. He’s not able to do anything on his own.

“In a way that’s not good. He could live like this for a long time and he wouldn’t be responding. It’s no way to live. I know Tom wouldn’t like that. None of us would like that, having to be fed and everything. There’s no quality of life. You’re basically dead but your body is kept going in an artificial existence.”

He said that while the family know that things aren’t looking good, there is hope.

“We just keep hoping. Maybe they’ll try this chemical again we’ll have to have a meeting on that, maybe this coming week and see.

“They wouldn’t be continuing on this long unless there was something in their mind [that there was hope] but at the same time they’re very cautious not to build up our hopes.”

He said because Tom is unresponsive fluids have been pooling in his body and he has to be moved around.

“When the fluids in your body pool, you can get infections very easily and can get pneumonia," he explained. "They are always giving him something for infections to keep ahead of it but he could get pneumonia and he could go overnight. There are so many things that can complicate it and the longer this goes on the more susceptible he is to that type of thing.”

Michael said he fears Tom’s attackers may have already fled the country due to the attention the case has received.

Mr Niland's home

“These people could be gone away, you wouldn’t know. Tom is still never going to be the same. If Tom doesn’t make it, it will be a murder case and if these people haven’t gone already they’ll definitely head off.”

Tom was able to talk after the attack but his condition soon worsened due to swelling on his brain.

Michael said he could tell from the conversations after the attack Tom would never be the same again even if he pulled through.

“He was able to talk for a day or so and gave me information. He asked me about his house and car and said how am I ever going to go back there. For that to come from Tom really shook me because Tom was a strong, a determined fella. He was a gentle giant but he was so low afterwards.

“I tried to say to him that’ll never happen again and we’ll get cameras and have lights and everything and we won’t let it happen again. He said ‘yeah, I suppose’, but then he put the head down again.

“They’ve taken his life away. Officially they haven’t killed him, but they have really.”

Michael said more needs to be done to help tackle burglary gangs striking rural areas.

“The people around here are getting together and talking about doing something serious. These community alert things aren’t much good in this day and age. People don’t see stuff.

“The cameras are the surest thing. They need to put in community cameras with number plate recognition.”

Councillors in Sligo have put down a motion calling for funding of €100,000 for a pilot scheme to upgrade CCTV with night time number plate recognition in key locations around Sligo.

The motion will go before next Monday’s meeting of Sligo County Council.

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