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I owe my life to my fiancee, says garda who came back from dead

A YOUNG garda says he owes his life to his fiancee after he technically died and she came to his rescue.

Garda Derek Cloonan went into sudden cardiac arrest just hours before the couple were due to host a dinner party at their Lucan home.

It was two weeks to the day after they got engaged and Ursula Doherty (30) was just about to go for a shower when Derek (34) had what she thought was a fit while watching football on TV in their sitting room.

"I thought it was a seizure, he was staring straight ahead and he wasn't focusing on anything," she told the Herald. "His mouth was open and his jaw was tense. His hands were like claws.

"I know the bare minimum about what to do, I knew I had to keep him warm but I was worried in case he swallowed his tongue."

Ursula, who is an account manager, called 999 immediately and described what was going on.

But when Derek stopped making what she describes as 'snoring noises' she knew something wasn't right.

"I was trying to take his pulse -- I can't find my own pulse at the best of times," she said.

"I was panicking but as far as I was concerned I wasn't expecting him to die."

The paramedics advised Ursula to get him on the ground.

"Under normal circumstances I could lift him, he's a skinny guy. But he was sitting on the couch and it was so awkward to move him," she said.


"I was thinking I would just throw him on the ground, but I'm such a clutz so I was afraid I could cause more damage.

"I ran in next door to our neighbour Philip Somers, he's such a hero.

"He ran in and threw Derek on the floor and started pressing on his chest and one minute later the paramedics arrived."

Ursula said it was probably seven minutes from the time when she first rang to when they arrived but it was the longest seven minutes of her life on December 17.

"Some days it feels like it happened 1,000 years ago or it happened to someone else and it's hard to think that it actually did," she said.

"Other times it is like something that I will never, ever forget."

Derek, who works in telecommunications in Garda HQ, turned completely grey and paramedics were getting no response to two shocks from the defibrillator.

Ursula was asked to leave the room with Philip as they worked.

"We'd only got engaged two weeks before, so I kept asking, 'How can I be a widow before he has even married me?'"

But the paramedics had managed to get him "back" and Derek was breathing again. He was rushed to the intensive care unit at Blanchardstown Hospital.

Derek remembers very little about what happened -- his short-term memory has gone.

"I was in a coma for a couple of days and that was the worry for my family -- that I would have long-term memory loss," he told the Herald.

"I wasn't right for a few days. I was all over the place. I was even trying to leave the hospital."

Medics brought Derek's temperature right down with ice packs because they were afraid of brain damage.

"When he woke up out of the coma he was like a little boy, so vulnerable and he had a memory like a goldfish," Ursula said.

"If I said one thing, I said it a thousand times.

"He would be up out of the bed, pulling out the wires and I had to say to him: 'You have to stay in bed. You died. You have to stay in hospital'."

He stayed in hospital over Christmas but by January 6 he was well enough to have a defibrillator fitted and discharged from hospital.

The garda now carries a Heart Rhythm Ireland card which will inform paramedics in the case of emergency that he has an internal defibrillator. He is due for a final check next week.

"I should be fairly much conscious if something like this happens again," Derek explained.

"This defibrillator should shock me and it will stop my heart and get the normal beat again. If I get a serious shock I have to dial 999.

"But in case I am home on my own or anything -- it is a good support to have."

The Mater Heart Appeal, www.materfoundation.ie, raises much-needed funds for the Family Heart Screening Clinic, where relatives of loved ones who have died from SADS (Sudden Adult Death Syndrome) or survived a Sudden Cardiac Arrest, can be screened for undiagnosed heart conditions.

Text MATER to 51500 to pledge a donation and help fight SADS by screening.