Two years ago, Rachel Keogh's heroin addiction almost cost her her arms (if you're squeamish don't read this article!)
Originally published: 2 February 2008
Watching proud mum Rachael Keogh nurse her newborn son, it’s hard to believe that less than two years ago she faced having both arms amputated, after a decade of drug abuse destroyed her veins.
Her trauma made the headlines when shocking photos of dead flesh on her needle-ravaged arms were released, and troubled Rachael confessed that even the grim prospect of losing her limbs wasn’t enough to deter her from injecting heroin. She was sure she’d die a drug addict and begged for help.
'It was my dream to get clean, and I never thought I'd become a mum. I'm still in shock'
Incredibly, she’s now turned her life around after quitting drugs and has become a mum for the first time.“I’m over the moon,” says Rachael, 28, who lives in Dublin. “It was my dream to get clean, and I never thought I’d become a mum. I’m still in shock.”
Rachael was raised by her grandparents, as her mum was only 15 when she was born.
Shockingly, her drug use started at the age of just 12, when she began smoking cannabis and drinking with friends. Her schoolwork suffered and she was expelled.
Rachael’s family hoped it was a phase, but she progressed to sniffing aerosols, taking LSD and then on to ecstasy. She smoked heroin for the first time at 13, and became addicted within weeks.
“I did it to fit in,” she says. “But I also liked it because it gave me confidence.”
By the time she was 15, Rachael was injecting heroin daily, and despite her family finding out and putting her into rehab, she never stayed clean for more than a few months. She funded her £120-a-day habit by shoplifting and stealing money.
Her arms were slowly rotting
Two years ago, it became painfully apparent to Rachael how low she’d sunk. One day, she spent 14 hours stabbing at her body as she tried to find a vein to get drugs into her system – but after more than 10 years of abuse, all her veins had collapsed and the flesh in her arms was slowly rotting.
Doctors warned Rachael her arms would have to be amputated if she carried on injecting – but that wasn’t enough to make her quit. “I was too caught up in my addiction to stop,” she says. “I’d inject into my feet, my groin and even my neck out of sheer desperation.”
Rachael eventually made the decision to quit drugs for good in summer 2006, after spending a week in jail for shoplifting. “I felt dead inside,” she recalls. “I was existing, not living. I was riddled with shame and couldn’t look people in the eye. I was tired of living like that and realised I wanted a new life for myself.
In October 2006, Rachael began a six-week detox programme to gradually wean her off drugs.
“I never had a moment where I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it,” she says. “I simply couldn’t afford to be negative.”
'I was existing, not living... I wanted a new life for myself'
After going through painful withdrawal symptoms, Rachael went into rehab for two months to learn how to live a drug-free life.In spring 2007, she was accepted on to an access course at Dublin’s Trinity College to study psychology, philosophy, history and law.
Picking up the pieces
Rachael also began dating musician Patrick McMonman, 31. “Everyone was telling me that I needed to be clean for two years and get my life back on track before even thinking about starting a relationship, but I fell madly in love,” she says.
And – just before she began her studies last September – Rachael discovered that
she was expecting a baby. “To be honest, I didn’t even think I’d be able to fall pregnant,” she says. “I was sure I’d wrecked my body with drugs. So when I missed a period and took a pregnancy test, I was amazed to find it was positive.”
In November 2007, the couple moved into a flat together in Dublin city centre, and last month Patrick was at Rachael’s side as she gave birth to their son.
Both Rachael and Patrick were overjoyed. “I just cradled him in my arms and started crying. It still feels unreal,” says the proud new mum. “It’s a miracle I got clean and that I’ve been able to have a perfect little boy.”
By Victoria Raymond