Wednesday 24 April 2019

Living to tell a tale of luck and quick thinking

Seaghan Kearney owes his life to a donated defibrillator and a clubmate's ability to use it, writes Marie Crowe

Seaghan Kearney: 'I'm a good news story for people and it makes a change from everything else that's going on.'
Seaghan Kearney: 'I'm a good news story for people and it makes a change from everything else that's going on.'

F our minutes was all the time Seaghan Kearney's team-mates had to save his life after he suffered Sudden Cardiac Arrest three months ago during an indoor football match at St Oliver Plunketts GAA club in Dublin.

It was a regular Monday evening for the 30-year-old teacher. A Junior C footballer with the club, he was 30 minutes into the five-a-side session when he collapsed, hit the floor and banged his head.

Seaghan went into cardiac arrest and his heart stopped working properly.

The experts say there is a four-minute window for revival from the time a person collapses in this way. Luckily, those around him were quick to react. They called Terry O'Brien, another member who was doing a volunteer stint behind the bar at the time.

Terry is a fireman, so he was able to take control of the situation. He put Kearney in the recovery position and got to work. Initially they thought he had swallowed his tongue, but as his pulse started to fade it became apparent that it was much more serious.

O'Brien sent another teammate to fetch the defibrillator, urgently. When Tyrone footballer Cormac McAnallen passed away in 2004, local pharmacist David King generously donated the device, but the club had failed to service it since and the batteries were out of date. By pure good fortune, there was enough power left for two blasts, just enough to revive Kearney and to keep him alive until the ambulance arrived.

"I was lucky that there was enough energy in it to revive me because clinically I was dead. In a way I was in the right place at the right time. A lot of events conspired to save me," revealed Seaghan

"The fact that it happened in a club where there was a defibrillator; the fact that Terry was there and he is a fireman and also there was just enough power in the defibrillator to save me, it was just pure luck."

When Kearney made it to the hospital, he was admitted to intensive care. The doctors were worried about brain damage because of a lack of oxygen but the only side-effect Kearney suffered was short-term memory loss.

"My memory was a bit dodgy for a while, they said that it could have taken two years to come back but it started to right itself quickly. I just kept asking people did Ireland really draw with Slovakia."

When he regained some strength, the doctors inserted an ICD (implantable cardioverter-defibrillator) under his arm. It's an internal defibrillator so if it ever happens again it will fire and kick-start his heart.

Kearney, named Plunketts' Junior C player of the year at the club's recent dinner dance, was in hospital for two and a half weeks, and his recovery was helped by the support he received from his friends, family and members of the GAA community.

"I couldn't believe the number of cards and texts I received from people. It was overwhelming. Clubmates, including Alan and Bernard Brogan, were among those who came to visit me in hospital. It all helped.

"Even still I meet a lot of people when I'm out walking who ask how I am. They are all interested in how I'm doing and it's out of genuine concern. I'm a good news story for people and it makes a change from everything else that's going on in their worlds."

As a result of what happened, Kearney had to give up competitive sport -- he can exercise but has to stay within certain parameters. There is a less than four per cent chance of it happening again but he has to be sensible about things. The odds are in his favour but if anything does happen he has a back-up plan with the ICD.

Just last week the GAA launched an initiative urging clubs and parents to test all players aged 14 and over for hidden heart defects that could lead to Sudden Cardiac Death. The syndrome claims the lives of up to 70 young adults under 35 every year.

Cormac McAnallen was the highest profile victim of Sudden Cardiac Death. He passed away in his sleep in 2004 at the tragically young age of 24.

Not long after Kearney was discharged from hospital, he went to see Bridget McAnallen, Cormac's mother. He thanked her for the efforts that her family made in raising awareness of Sudden Cardiac Death; what they did helped save his life.

"A lot of clubs have defibrillators; they got them after Cormac passed away. I know of other clubs close to us that have them locked away in offices and safes. It's not much benefit keeping them some place where no one can get at them."

While recovering Kearney decided to do some work in raising awareness of Sudden Cardiac Death. He is part of a team who have come up with a campaign centred on the acronym 'ACT'. 'A' is to ensure that the defibrillator is accessible, 'C' is to make sure it is charged and 'T' is so that people are trained how to use it.

The GAA have also relaunched the National Defibrillator Scheme. They are offering the Samaritan PAD for €1,075 including VAT.

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