Sunday 26 May 2019

'I'm living a normal life when I was basically dead for seven minutes' - London hurler saved by remarkable set of circumstances

London hurler Brian Regan. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
London hurler Brian Regan. Photo: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

When it's put to last year's London hurling captain Brian Regan that entering the lottery should have been his next port of call after surviving seven minutes without his heart beating, his response is that he feels like he has "already won the lotto".

That Saturday afternoon when his Kilburn Gaels side took on Robert Emmetts in the London SHC last September will be forever etched in his memory, as Regan lay motionless on the Ruislip sod surrounded by worried faces who feared he had taken his last breath.

Brian Regan in action for Gort in 2012 Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile
Brian Regan in action for Gort in 2012 Photo: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile

Lady Luck was on his side in more ways than one, however, and he knows it only too well. Hurling ties in the English capital wouldn't be the most populated, but that September 29 clash was unique in many ways.

The McGovern Park double-header had a group of six nurses/camogie players in attendance who would help bring him back to life, while team-mate and good friend Stephen Lambert - a Galway native like Regan - had amazingly spent the previous two days doing a refresher course to update his skills on CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) with work.

Serious

Sometimes the stars align in your favour and this was one such case, as one of the five ambulances called happened to be just minutes from the west London venue, where it was about to attend to a less serious accident in a local swimming pool.

The week previous Regan played a football match in the remote Greenford, with nobody bar teams and management present and had he collapsed there, chances are he wouldn't be living to tell the tale. He knows he was one of the fortunate cases.

"Our game was on the Saturday, but on the Thursday and Friday, Stephen was doing his first aid refresher course so it was just unbelievable that that happened and then sure he was there beside me when I went down," Regan says of the traumatic incident.

"He was straight on the case giving me CPR. Only for him it would have been a different story, I could never thank him enough. It's weird the way it worked out that he was doing the course the day before.

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"The six nurses that were at the game were straight out on the scene as well and between them all they did some job, while Stephen's girlfriend, who is a cardiac nurse, was there as well. That was another stroke of luck.

"All the cards fell into place for me. I think about how lucky I am all the time. That's the biggest thing, I was blessed. There was definitely somebody looking down on me.

"There are so many ambulances going around here every day that when I hear the siren going off it would remind you of it. I get a flashback nearly every day and it pops into my head and reminds me of just how lucky I am."

The Gort native - a former Galway senior hurling panellist having been rewarded for his defensive displays when helping his home club to county title success in 2011 - was "lifted about two feet off the ground" when the defibrillator in Ruislip was applied and helped bring him back to life, despite being clinically dead for seven minutes.

He has no memory of the incident - which happened just before half-time and two minutes after colliding with an Emmetts' player - and admits that he's "probably better off" not recalling any of the emotional scars.

There was no sense of 'seeing the light', which many survivors describe when it seems their life is drifting away and he was quickly resurrected, with team-mates questioning him to assess if he was still coherent.

"I came around fairly quickly because I remember coming back around on the pitch. They were asking me my name and I remember Stephen being there and I was like 'Stephen I know you, like'," he says with a smile.

"I remember there was a big circle around me when I woke up and I was like 'Jesus, what the hell is going on here?' and then I realised 'oh sh**, it was me' and that there was something wrong."

Brian Regan is pictured with his parents Ann and Joe when collecting his 2018 Christy Ring Cup Champion 15 All-Star award at Dublin’s Convention Centre last November
Brian Regan is pictured with his parents Ann and Joe when collecting his 2018 Christy Ring Cup Champion 15 All-Star award at Dublin’s Convention Centre last November

The paramedics administered oxygen before taking him to the nearby Harefield Hospital, another giant slice of luck he received as one of the largest specialist heart centres in the UK was just minutes away.

Spectators gave a spontaneous round of applause as the ambulance was driven across the pitch and by that night he was bruised, but not broken with "the most annoying thing" being that he hadn't showed any worrying symptoms before passing out.

Three weeks were spent in hospital running a battery of tests, with nurses nearly tripping over bottles of Lucozade and boxes of chocolates such was the wealth of visitors who dropped in to wish one of London's longest-serving players well.

Mere days after the scare he felt as good as new and he gradually eased himself back into his job as a project manager with Togher Construction following his release. Thankfully, he has carried no side effects.

He will bear a souvenir of the experience for the rest of his days, though, with his own mini-defibrillator - "like a big match box" - sitting under the skin of his ribcage to give him a shock should anything similar happen again.

A wire is connected to his heart which will restart it should a problem ever arise and the mini-defib acts as a reminder that he has made it out the other side, unlike his late Gort clubmate Cathal Forde.

Forde collapsed and died of Sudden Adult Death Syndrome (SADS) during a Kilburn training session at Highgate in 2012 - a year before Regan made the move to London - and Regan implores GAA clubs and organisations of all description to take the necessary precautions to help prevent such tragedies.

"I feel like nothing ever happened to me. I'm living a normal life when I was basically dead for seven minutes, that'll tell you how good the defibrillators are. They basically save lives," Regan explains.

"Everywhere there's sport being played, and every pitch and club should have them. The focal point of nearly every community is the GAA pitch and you never know what might happen, so they should be prepared for such circumstances.

"CPR is so important as well, first aid ultimately saved my life. Normally they say if you're out for more than two or three minutes there's a good chance you'll have brain damage.

"It just shows how good of a job they did to keep the oxygen pumping into my brain that they were able to prevent that. I couldn't say enough about how important first aid courses are.

"In schools and PE they should be teaching all of that. When you think of some of the stuff you do in school, you never remember it, but that is something you'd never forget and it could be a life saver.

"All clubs should be running a first aid refresher course at the start of the year and defibrillators should be everywhere. I know they're costly, but you can't put a price on saving lives."

Following the shock passing of Tyrone football legend Cormac McAnallen at the age of 24 as a result of SADS, a Defibrillator Scheme was launched within the GAA a year later and Regan stresses the need for clubs to be proactive in their bid to help prevent such occurrences on their playing fields.

They say life begins at 30, and it certainly feels that way for Regan, who collected his Christy Ring Cup All-Star last November at the Convention Centre in Dublin after being rewarded for his efforts following the Exiles' run to the final.

He's back exercising on a stationary bike and while a hurling comeback looks out of the question given the potential risks, he's already been collared by Kilburn to get involved as part of their senior hurling management for this year.

Last weekend was spent back on Irish shores for a friend's stag in Kilkenny and he has no intention of wasting his second chance.

Trivial things which stop most people in their tracks simply aren't given the same attention they previously demanded.

"Everybody is the same until something like that happens. You take everything for granted. But even the small little things that you'd be worrying about or complaining about, you'd be like, 'Jaysus I'd wanna cop on in all fairness'," says Regan, who won London SHC titles in 2014 and '17 and reached an All-Ireland club intermediate final in 2015.

Rushing

"Anyone who passes away has plans for next week or next month or next year, but there's no guarantee any of us will get to tomorrow, so you have to make the most of every day and not be putting stuff on the long finger and worrying about stupid things.

"You'd be going to work and you'd see people rushing and racing to get Tubes and you'd just be thinking: 'What's your hurry? What difference is two minutes going to make at the end of the day?'

"You definitely have a different outlook on life, every day is a blessing so you'd appreciate everything. You might be feeling sorry for yourself over what happened, but then you hear of other people that are sick and you realise that it's only a small thing.

"There's always someone worse and you realise how important it is just to appreciate everything you have and every day that you're living. Every morning that you wake up is a good day."

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