'They opened my skull, split me from ear to ear' - Ken Dunne says he's lucky to be alive

Jackie Cahill

Former Tipperary hurler Ken Dunne says that he’s “very lucky” to be alive after he underwent emergency brain surgery last April.

Dunne, his wife Helen and their children, Molly and KJ, were on a family outing to Fota Island in Cork during the Easter holidays, when he suffered a violent seizure in the middle of the night.

The Toomevara clubman, who lines out in Sunday’s Seamus Ó Riain Cup final against Roscrea at Semple Stadium, was transferred to Cork University Hospital, where a lump the size of an orange on the right side of his brain was removed.

Dunne, brother of Tipp All-Ireland winners Tommy and Benny, is now on daily anti-seizure medication but has made a remarkable recovery – and was back training with Toomevara within five weeks of his operation.

Dunne, who made three senior championship appearances for the Premier County in 2006, tells his story on Tipp FM’s Straight Talk programme, which will air from 6-7pm this evening.

Toomevara clubman Ken Dunne with his wife, Helen, and children, Molly and KJ. ‘They showed us the scans (pre and post operation) and you could see the front right-hand side of my brain was a black blob (pre-op).’

He explains how he was playing hurling and football with KJ on the pitches at the Fota Island resort on a Friday evening, when he experienced a slight pain in his head.

But free-scoring Dunne, who also hurled in the minor and U21 grades for Tipp, thought nothing of it and the family enjoyed a meal before retiring to bed.

He said: “I turned out the light between ten and half ten…after that, I don’t remember much.

“I just woke up in the middle of the night. Molly was standing beside my bed with her clothes on, I was going ‘there’s something going on here.’

“Helen was up with her clothes on, KJ was a little bit upset.

“Then I noticed a guy from the hotel in the room on the phone.

“I was looking around for a while, a little bit bemused.

“Helen said ‘look, you’re after having some kind of seizure, we’ve called the ambulance.’

“Afterwards, when Helen was telling me, she thought I was having a bad dream, about 2.15 in the morning.

“She put her hand over to see if I was ok but as soon as she put her hand over, she knew there was something up, and I was having a fairly physical, aggressive seizure. She turned the lights on, my body was in convulsions.

“As it turned out, it was bad enough that the kids woke. It went on for about ten minutes.”

Dunne, who will turn 40 next Monday, was in hospital within an hour and he was scanned on Saturday afternoon.

He says: “They said there was something on the right side of my brain, but he was very confident from the word go that it was benign.

“We were delighted to hear that but it definitely caused the seizure and had to come out.”

Dunne underwent an eight-and-a-half-hour surgery on Monday.

He recalls: “It took me a while to come to. I eventually got talking to the neurosurgeon (Michael O’Sullivan). They opened my skull, split me from ear to ear, clamped my skull open and whatever was in there ballooned out.

“It wasn’t a brain tumour as such, a mucoid cyst, kind of messy.

“When the skull opened, it relieved all of the pressure. It was about the size of an orange and he had to go about cleaning it up.” Dunne was in bed until Wednesday morning but well enough, then, to get up, use the bathroom, and walk up and down corridors and stairs.

He was released home on Thursday and explains: “We went back down to get the stitches out and it was quite frightening that day.

“They showed us the scans (pre and post operation) and you could see the front right-hand side of my brain was a black blob (pre-op).

“That was a scary experience. But he said it was all good, it was all out.

“He said three things – ‘it was very rare, very large and you’re very lucky’.

“It originated before I was born, in the embryonic stage. Part of my intestine in the stomach that grew in the wrong place and over time, it got bigger and bigger. He was amazed how I even got through childhood without anything happening to me and when I told him I played contact sport, hurling all my life, he couldn’t believe it/

“If I got a shoulder, a dunt, a belt in the head, he couldn’t believe that something didn’t trigger a reaction.

“I’ve had stitches in my head but I’ve never had a scan on my head as such. If I had, it would have shown up.

“It just goes to show how lucky I was, I’m a very lucky man to have survived it.”

Dunne has been advised not to drive until next April but if the surgeon is happy with his progress, he could be back on the road shortly.

During the course of a wide-ranging interview, Dunne admits that the family was left “distraught” when Benny was sent off in the 2009 All-Ireland final against Kilkenny.

But that disappointment turned to elation a year later, when Benny came off the bench to score a point as Tipp denied the Cats the five-in-a-row.

Ken says: “Benny’s a resilient guy, one of the best club hurlers I’ve ever hurled with. He’s a tough lad in a lot of ways, he did get a lot of abuse (2009). I remember coming out under the Cusack Stand that day…seeing Tommy under the stand on the phone, trying to get to talk to somebody to get into the dressing room. We were distraught and you have to listen to guys going out along. It’s very hard, your head is down and your heart is low. It wasn’t easy but redemption in 2010 makes it all worthwhile.

“2010 was a great win – great for Benny to come on and get a very important score.”

You can hear the full interview with Ken Dunne on Tipp FM’s Straight Talk with Jackie Cahill, which airs from 6-7pm this evening.

This article first appeared in today's Irish Examiner.


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