‘I was terrified that I wouldn’t wake up’ – Brian Gartland reveals blood clot scare

Brian Gartland is back to fitness with Dundalk. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

Daniel McDonnell

Dundalk defender Brian Gartland has revealed that he thought he was going to die after a serious blood clot formed in his lungs in the aftermath of knee surgery last year.

The Dubliner was informed by medics that if the clot had moved by a couple of millimetres, the pressure on one of the chambers in his heart could have resulted in tragic consequences.

Gartland details the episode in his newly-released autobiography One Last Shot, explaining how he made a dash to St Vincent’s Hospital when he sensed something wasn’t right.

The experienced defender damaged his ACL at the beginning of the 2021 season and was operated on at the end of April.

Yet when he returned home, pain levels remained high, and alarm bells rang when he coughed up blood into a tissue.

He made a first trip to St Vincent’s Hospital after being frustrated by the wait at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, and an initial CT scan showed low-grade clots in his lungs.

But even though he underwent a thorough examination, Gartland felt something wasn’t right and a second journey was required after he found himself struggling for breath on his couch.

In the book he describes how Dr James Foley, a face he knew from Tallaght Stadium, saw him upon his return, with the centre-half terrified about what might happen.

“He went in and pulled my chart straightaway – and suddenly tests for this, that, and everything were organised.

“He obviously knew it was something serious,” says Gartland.

“The HSE comes in for criticism, but when it comes to the frontline staff, I’m in awe. Dr Foley arranged for a CT scan straight away, and I was put into an isolation cubicle. But that night was the worst of my life up to that point.

“I honestly feared I wouldn’t survive that night. As I tried to sleep, I experienced a hot flush. It started at my toes and I could feel it creeping up my body. Suddenly, I started shaking. Violently. I managed to ring the bell. The nurse came in, checked my stats and vitals. They were fine. The shaking eased,” continues Gartland.

“I tried to nod off again. The shaking. Again. I turned to the monitor by my bedside and could see my oxygen levels had dropped. Once the shaking stopped, they returned to normal.

“I was really afraid to sleep now. I was terrified that I wouldn’t wake up. I sat there exhausted, but started to doze off. I was jolted out of my sleep again by the shaking. It happened five or six times that night.

“I was freaking out. Here I was, one of the fittest at the club. I looked after myself, lived life the right way, didn’t drink much, didn’t smoke, could do 5k in 18 minutes. How could this be happening? Up to this point, I thought I was indestructible.”

The CT results showed a substantial clot, and Gartland was kept in for a period of time to be assessed before he was eventually allowed to return home, with the instruction to go on blood thinners.

“By August I met with a few consultants. They walked me through my reports,” said Gartland. “I met with a junior doctor, around my age, who told me that the pressure on one of the chambers in my heart had reached a certain level.

“I was two-thirds of the way there. I was told that if the clot had moved a few millimetres, I could have been done. That was tough to hear.”

Gartland needed to wait for the all-clear from doctors before he could commit to returning to play for Dundalk this term and he had a few scares over the winter.

“Once I was off the Warfarin (blood thinners) in the new year I became paranoid, thinking every little feeling or sensation was a potential clot. I ended up in hospital again in early January, because I felt a little bit of pressure,” said the 35-year-old.

“The doctors put it down to stress. I’d already signed my new contract with Dundalk, but if the haematologist’s advice had been to retire, I would have ripped up the deal and told the gaffer (Stephen O’Donnell) to use the money on another player.” One Last Shot’, published by Hero Books, is now available