Monday 18 December 2017

Could Morah have shed some light on the scars inside Gerry's heart?

Many dark corners of the broadcaster's life remain a mystery, even after the inquest

JEROME REILLY

Why wasn't Morah Ryan asked about Gerry and cocaine? It was an extraordinary omission at the inquest into his death.

Could Morah, his wife of 26 years, have shone any light on the still dark corners of Gerry Ryan's secret life?

Morah, who was already under oath after giving evidence of identifying the body of her husband, might have been able to comment on one crucial question at the inquest

What caused the scars inside Gerry's heart?

The pathologist Dr Eamon Leen who carried out the post mortem believed it "most likely" that the scarring, called fibrosis, was caused by consistent use of cocaine.

But there was also another possible cause; a viral infection of the heart that at some stage in the past had left a deadly legacy of myocardial fibrosis -- the formation of tiny scar tissue in the heart muscle.

It was this scarring combined with the "recent cocaine and alcohol consumption" in the hours before he died that set off the electrical storm in Gerry's heart.

But Morah wasn't asked if she knew anything about her husband's involvement with drugs. She wasn't asked if she knew anything about Gerry ever using cocaine during their marriage of nearly three decades.

And so the questions about Gerry's use of cocaine; how long, how much, and how costly in terms of emotional and financial devastation to him and his family, will never be answered.

The broadcaster's autobiography, released shortly before his death, was titled: Would the Real Gerry Ryan Please Stand Up. That title must now have a bitter ring for Melanie Verwoerd.

As the dramatic evidence of Gerry's last 24 hours unfolded and the bombshell was dropped that he had been using cocaine, Melanie crumpled in her seat like she had been shot.

She leaned into the cool mahogany wall of the Coroner's Court. She became smaller somehow, diminished by a betrayal. She clutched a tissue to her elfin face and tore it apart with her manicured fingernails. She was, albeit in silence, keening.

Just moments earlier she had told the hushed court: "We discussed at the beginning of our relationship, like many couples do, the boundaries. We agreed that drugs were non-negotiable and that I would be out the door. No second chances... I was absolutely aware of nothing ever being used."

Many people who live ordinary lives and who have never even seen cocaine or any hard drugs might consider it extraordinary that there was a discussion at the start of a romance about whether drug use was acceptable within that relationship.

Why did this discussion on drug use arise? people might wonder. But it was also clear that the evidence of Gerry's use of cocaine in the time shortly before his death came as a bolt from the blue for Melanie.

And then the pathologist, who spoke via a video link from Canada, gave his expert opinion that every one of the symptoms that she had earlier outlined of her lover's health difficulties in the two weeks before his death -- the panic attacks, the dizziness, the palpitations, the chronic fatigue -- were also consistent with cocaine use as well as the "extreme stress" Melanie felt was the cause of Gerry's problems.

Her devastation was complete. Melanie began gently rocking in her seat. Tears fell from her eyes. It was such a dramatic disintegration from the strong but softly spoken woman who had taken to the stand to hear her deposition read on her behalf and then later gave a detailed verbal account of the last two weeks of Gerry's life.

Melanie said she had been Gerry's partner since the middle of 2008.

"The last time I saw him was on Thursday, April 29, at around 7am to 7.30am when he was getting up for work.

"He was in good form, though complaining of being tired. He and I were looking forward to the bank holiday weekend. We had made some plans."

Melanie said she had spoken to Gerry during the day a number of times and they also corresponded by text. The last conversation they had was that night, shortly before midnight at 11.40pm.

"He said he was tired and was getting ready for bed. He was also unsure about whether he would do the radio programme the following morning."

She added that normally Gerry would ring her around 7am when he was getting ready for work and then again on his way into the RTE studios.

Melanie thought it strange that he didn't contact her on Friday morning, April 30, and her first reaction was that he had overslept. She said that she tried ringing him but there was no answer.

Early in the morning she went around to Gerry's house on Leeson Street but was unable to get in as the security chain was in place.

Shortly afterwards she heard that Gerry had cancelled his radio programme and she was relieved. She presumed he was getting some sleep as he had been complaining of being tired the night before.

Later she sent him a text message to ask him to give her a call when he got up. She sent a text, rather than making a phone call because she presumed he had put his phone on silent.

Melanie then returned to her own home and got ready for work. She left her house at around 9am and was in work for 10am.

Again she rang Gerry but there was still no reply. She was beginning to get a little anxious.

"I thought it very strange that he hadn't been in touch by now," she told a hushed court.

She decided, at around noon, to leave work and went to Gerry's house accompanied by her son, arriving at around 1.30pm

Again the security chain, locked from the inside of Gerry's home, stopped her gaining entry.

She called out his name a number of times to try and wake him up and get his attention. She also tried phoning him again but the phone rang out.

Melanie said she was very worried and knew something wasn't right. She said she told her son to go and get some help. He had tried to force the door and the security chain by leaning into the door "but it would not budge". Her son had also brought a screwdriver with him but couldn't open the door. Eventually a plumber on the building site used a hacksaw to cut the security chain.

"I thanked him and he said it was no problem and headed back to his work. I went into the house and then went into the bedroom. I looked at the bed. He wasn't in the bed. I was relieved. I then looked over and saw that his feet were sticking out the far corner under the bed.

"The bed clothes were still around him. His head was between the bed and the bedside locker. I touched him and felt he was rigid and cold. I turned him over and my son attempted CPR and I contacted the emergency services."

After her deposition was concluded, the coroner, Dr Brian Farrell, began to ask Melanie questions about the Thursday morning when she had last seen him alive and asked if he had been complaining that he had been unwell.

She said that he hadn't been well for a while but had been quite ill for the previous 10 days.

"He was extremely unwell. Gerry was under an extraordinary amount of stress in the last two weeks before his death. He was trying to finalise and sort out his separation and there was pressure from RTE and his work and because of what was happening in these areas he was under pressure from the impacts of the recession. The pressure had built up and built up. In the last two weeks it began to take a toll on him, physically," she said in a quiet but firm voice.

"In the last two weeks he was up most nights. He would have heart palp-itations. He had to sit up in bed and was very breathless and felt very dizzy. That happened very frequently and then it began to happen during the day.

"Obviously I was incredibly concerned and I begged him to go to the doctor. Gerry kept insisting that it was stress and that he would be fine when things were finalised in the next week or so. He said that it was just panic attacks."

When he received texts or "aggressive" phone calls late into the night he would "go grey", Ms Verwoerd said.

She had asked Gerry not to go to work on the Monday before he died, but there had been a change in policy in relation to sick leave in RTE and he felt if he took the time off it would "send the wrong message".

But, as Melanie was to learn just a few minutes after she concluded her evidence, Gerry Ryan had traces of cocaine and alcohol in his body at the time of his death.

The pathologist Dr Leen said a post mortem showed the broadcaster had died from an abnormal heart rhythm, which was likely to have been triggered by cocaine.

Dr Leen said Gerry had "cocaethylene" in his system. This is the toxic substance which is produced when cocaine and alcohol are taken together.

"Even though the cocaine level was quite low, the by-product can have a delayed toxic effect," he said.

"There is a lot of concern about cocaethylene, cocaine and alcohol. If alcohol is taken before (the cocaine), it causes a greater surge. Some studies show that an alcohol and cocaine combination is 25pc more dangerous."

The broadcaster also had Levamisole, a veterinary medicine commonly used to "cut" cocaine, in his system. The veterinary drug is used to treat liverfluke, a parasite of sheep and cattle.

Over-the-counter codeine, an opiate, was found in a small quantity or therapeutic amounts.

Dr Leen explained that Gerry had fibrosis in the heart -- an abnormal thickening of the heart valves. He said this is usually the result of heart disease but "not in this case". He said there were two possibilities, another being viral myocarditis, which causes the heart muscle to enlarge.

"The other explanation is more likely," he said, adding that a history of cocaine use can cause the heart damage.

It was at this stage that Dr Leen was challenged by barrister Brendan Grehan, representing the next of kin, including Morah.

Under questioning by Mr Grehan, on behalf of Morah, Dr Leen said that unless there was a history of cocaine use, he "couldn't make a determination between the two" as the cause of the scarring whether it was cocaine or a previous viral infection.

Coroner Dr Brian Farrell said: "The cause of death... was cardiac arrhythmia, with the use of cocaine as a significant risk factor."

He recorded a verdict of death by misadventure with a "number of risk factors" leading to Gerry's death.

Sunday Independent

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