A Day in the Life of Noel Sugrue

Siobhan Donohoe talks to Noel Sugrue

A Day in the Life of Noel Sugrue

It’s not often a family member makes the cut for the Day in the Life! This week, I am making the exception and would like to tell you about my younger brother Noel Sugrue - the man with the titanium neck.
November 10, 2018 is a day none of our family and friends will ever forget. It was the day that Noel broke his neck. With his loving wife Kate and family by his bedside, he spent seven agonising days on the flat of his back, while waiting for an operation in the Mater Spinal Unit. Two days after a successful operation, Noel walked out of the hospital, and wore a neck brace for the next 16 weeks while his vertebrae healed.
The fact that he walked out of the hospital was short of a miracle, but it was also down to pure fitness, strength and Sugrue determination. Noel has always being a keen sportsperson and runner, and he vowed that he would run again. His ultimate goal was to complete a half IronMan in Portugal. And that he did, only 10 short months after his accident.
Amazingly, he took 20 minutes off his time from the previous year’s IronMan race.
This month, we celebrate the first anniversary of Noel putting back on his running shoes and how he has come back fighting fitter, faster and stronger.
Another contributing factor that helped Noel in his speedy recovery is his occupation. He is a structural and paediatric Osteopath, and with over 15 years’ experience treating patients, he knew the time had come to start taking his own advice.
Noel is married to Kate and they have two children, aged three and one. As well as being a fitness fanatic, Noel is also an award-winning Pedigree Charolais farmer. (No sibling jealousy at all!)
Here is a glimpse into Noel’s world…
Noel, please explain what is an Osteopath and how do you treat patients?
Here’s the science bit! Osteopathy is similar to physiotherapy with the exception that our main focus is on the function of the skeletal system and how it affects the function of our body. I am primarily interested in what the joints are doing and helping their function when I treat any muscular or tendon or ligament issue.
I believe it’s more important to address the underlying structural issues before treating the presenting symptom.
So I specialise in diagnosing and treating joint related issues and use a hands-on structural approach with most of my patients, including joint manipulation. The exception is treating babies where I employ gentler, more indirect techniques.
Why do some parents refer to you the ‘baby whisperer’?
My postgraduate training was in Paediatric Osteopathy and I have developed a unique approach to treating babies with sleeping and feeding issues. These issues mainly arise from birth strains.
I treat a lot of babies, it’s probably the most rewarding part of my work because you can see the improvement in them really clearly. Also, it’s great to be able to help babies sleep because as we all know a sleepless baby affects the whole family!
Last year you completed the IronMan 70.3 in Lisbon, just less than 10 months after breaking your neck. How did you manage that?
After I had cervical spinal fusion, I was determined to get my life back, and a huge part of that is fitness and training. I was allowed to use a stationary bike two weeks post-surgery and was cleared to run six months after.
Training and having a target really helped my recovery physically, and more importantly, mentally. I had planned on doing the IronMan before the accident and my doctors told me I was allowed to train. I suppose I have a bit of a stubborn streak, I wasn’t willing to change my plans!
Since your accident, you have a newfound appreciation for the ‘finisher’s medal’?
Regardless of what time a person finishes a race in, we don’t always think what’s behind that achievement. Time is not important, but getting across that finish line is and we don’t always know what crossing that line means to people on an individual level, as well as the journey it took to get there.
What was your recovery like?
Slow and controlled. The body is great at telling you that you are pushing it too much. Nutrition and rest played a huge important role in pain management and healing. It was a very challenging time in my life but I had a great support system.
I found that setting small goals was hugely helpful and ticking off these small goals gave a great sense of achievement that helped me strive for the next one. I’m talking about things as small as being able to feed yourself or put on shoes. Setting small achievable goals instead of focusing on the bigger picture in terms of recovery really helped.
Have you fully recovered?
I broke my neck in four places and broke my skull also. Recovery is ongoing for any injury of that nature.
I get very sore still, so I regularly attend physio and a structural Osteopath in Dublin. It’s something that will be with me for life but I am one of the lucky ones. When I think of where I could be now had the breaks in my neck been a millimetre up or down it puts my pains and other lingering issues into perspective.
With social distancing, you are unable to practise osteopathy. Instead it’s Daddy Day Care for you, while your wife works from home during the lockdown. How is that going?
I’m loving it. I’m getting huge amounts of time with my kids that I never would have. We are making memories that we would never had been able to. And they’re loving it because they’re getting away with murder!
Obviously I miss work but the Osteopathic Council of Ireland had rightly advised us that we should not be working over the lockdown. My practise has been shut down since March 13. However over the weekend we thankfully got word that we are part of phase one to reopen so I am busy taking bookings. When I am back at work, I will be taking lots of precautions to keep the environment as sterile as possible.
What are the main concerns of your patients now that they cannot be treated?
I’m doing a lot of video calls with patients who have neck and back pain that is either exacerbated by or brought on by poor posture working at home.
I’m advising on self-treatment and office ergonomics. Simple changes can make a big difference to spine health. I’ve also been getting a lot of calls from pregnant patients. I treat a lot of pregnancy related hip pain. This pain can be debilitating in some cases but my patients are reporting great relief from the stretches and exercises I’ve given them.
Lots of people are taking up running and cycling to make the most of their lockdown exercise. Have you any advice for them?
The biggest mistake many runners make is that they run too hard, too often and try to increase their volume too quickly. These are mistakes I’ve made in the past and trust me it’s a surefire way of depleting your energy and immune systems and winding up injured.
I do around 80% of my running at conversational pace and only 20% hard. Try to increase the volume by no more than 10% per week. Stretching and rolling your muscles is also hugely important. I’m working on smiling also! Apparently I never look happy when I’m running!
Final question and please be as honest as you can. Who is your favourite sister?
The one writing this of course!
Noel runs Sugrue Osteopathy and Injury Clinic in Kilkenny’s Springhill Clinic on the Waterford Road, Kilkenny and Northside Osteopathy in Dublin. For appointments, contact 086-1560605.

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