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Muamba ordeal brings it all back home to Clarke

THE distressing scenes at White Hart Lane on Saturday evening reminded Clive Clarke just how fortunate he was to survive a near-death experience in August of 2007.

Clarke, a Wicklow native, was in the dressing room during half-time of Leicester's Carling Cup tie with Nottingham Forest when he suffered a cardiac arrest. His team-mates thought he had died, but Clarke lived to tell the tale. He was just 27 years old.

"I went into the changing room and sat down," he recalled yesterday. "The next thing I knew, I woke up in the back of an ambulance. I'm lucky I had good people around me who acted quickly and saved my life."

Fabrice Muamba's ordeal has resonated with many people within Irish sport. In this part of the world, we are all too aware of inexplicable circumstances where a young, fit athlete is cut down in his prime.

Tragic

The tragic death of Tyrone's Cormac McAnallen in his sleep brought Sudden Death Syndrome (SDS) into the public consciousness, but the reality is that sportsmen at all levels have been struck down by both SDS and medical conditions that hadn't been detected.

Absolute prevention is impossible. The key is putting the facilities in place that will be on hand if a serious event occurs -- and introducing screening measures at an early stage in an athlete's life so that issues can be detected.

The FAI, to their credit, have led the way in this country. Their proactive strategy possibly saved the life of promising League of Ireland footballer Sean Prunty.

Under the stewardship of Dr Alan Byrne, the FAI started screening their underage teams in 2006. Two years later, they extended the policy towards the League of Ireland.

Byrne was actually doing trial runs with certain clubs and it just so happened that Drogheda United -- then the champions -- were picked ahead of their pre-season. Prunty, who had just joined the club, was at a training camp in Spain when word came through of worrying test results. The instruction was to get him off the pitch immediately. If those measures weren't in place, then the unthinkable could have happened down the line.

"He was very lucky that the screening programme picked up his abnormality," said Byrne.

Prunty's football career was over, however, and Clarke also faced that eventuality. But it was soon put in perspective.

"The next day there was a real relief that I'd survived. I realised how lucky I was to survive. For your heart to stop for three minutes and to make a full recovery is very, very difficult," Clarke said.

Clarke has since moved into a new career as a football agent. He has an internal defibrillator fitted in case he is suddenly hit by a cardiac problem again. It allows him to go to the gym and try to keep up a certain level of fitness.

"I can do as much as I want within reason," he said. "There's being fit and then being as fit as a footballer. I don't think people realise how fit you have to be to play the game."

Byrne warned yesterday that people who are below that level of fitness can also be vulnerable. Having a defibrillator on site and medical staff at the ready is a privilege that won't be available to many people lining out at junior level in a variety of sports.

All clubs are encouraged to send their players for the relative tests. But the scary bottom line is that the procedures aren't foolproof.

Irish Independent