Limerick cousins speak from the heart about life-changing experience

Aine Fitzgerald

Reporter:

Aine Fitzgerald

A COUNTY Limerick woman who was clinically dead for six minutes after suffering cardiac arrest while in Australia - and has since made a full recovery - has spoken of the importance of heart screening in detecting life-threatening conditions.

A COUNTY Limerick woman who was clinically dead for six minutes after suffering cardiac arrest while in Australia - and has since made a full recovery - has spoken of the importance of heart screening in detecting life-threatening conditions.

Sarah McGuire from Herbertstown was enjoying her fifth day into her backpacking trip to Australia when she suffered cardiac arrest on March 11, 2011.

“I can’t remember any of it. It happened on the Wednesday morning. We got to Brisbane on the Saturday night. We went for dinner with a friend the night before. I had gone for an interview for a job and gotten a job –loads of things had happened but I don’t remember. I don’t even remember getting to Australia,” Sarah explained.

The 28-year-old along with her cousin Mary whose sister Martina sadly passed away in her sleep 10 years ago aged just 17, agreed to tell their stories to highlight the Heart Appeal which runs for the month of February in a bid to raise vital funds for the Mater Hospital’s Family Heart Screening Clinic.

In Ireland, more than one person under the age of 35 dies suddenly from an undiagnosed heart condition each week.

On March 11, 2011 Sarah was woken up suddenly by her phone ringing. It was her mother, Antoinette, calling from Herbertstown.

During the phone call Sarah started feeling unwell. Antoinette could hear Sarah’s boyfriend, Brian Cahill, in the background saying ‘Sarah are you OK?’

Brian started CPR on Sarah and then ran downstairs to reception to get them to call an ambulance.

A medical professional talked both Brian and the receptionist through the correct way to administer CPR. Sarah was rushed to the Royal Brisbane Hospital where, after six minutes of being clinically dead, the doctors and nurses revived her.

Sarah’s parents Antoinette and Dan and younger brother Daniel, along with Brian’s mother Lilian and brother Tony all travelled out to Australia to be with Sarah and Brian. Within days, Sarah was diagnosed with Long QT Syndrome and had a defibrillator inserted.

“From what I understand, the electricity in my heart can sometimes be too weak to correct itself when it goes into the wrong rhythm,” Sarah explained of the condition.

Sarah then spent just under three months in the rehab hospital learning how to walk again and do things for herself. Her occipital lobe was damaged due to the lack of oxygenated blood going to her brain the morning she arrested so she had problems with short term memory, her peripheral vision and mobility.

“I was about four or five weeks in the main hospital before I was moved down to the rehab hospital and when I was there I had intensive physio, speech therapy and occupational therapy. Even at that stage, I didn’t even realise I was in Australia. I thought for a long time I was in hospital in Limerick.”

Thankfully, Sarah has made an almost full recovery.

“I am back working full-time,” said Sarah who works for BDO Simpson Xavier and is on contract to the Commercial Aviation Services in Shannon.

Before Sarah went home to Ireland she got to see the Whitsunday Islands, where Brian - who plays rugby with Bruff RFC - proposed to her. Both live in Knockainey and are looking forward to a happy life together.

Sarah’s two sisters, Emma and Joanne, were also diagnosed with Long QT syndrome through gene testing in Dublin and stress tests performed at a cardiology clinic in the Bon Secours Hospital in Cork and now both have defibrillators fitted. “My story has a happy ending but I am just one person and my family is just one family compared to all the families who have lost someone through Sudden Adult Death Syndrome and who have to deal with that loss every day. I can’t change their stories but through the Mater Foundation other lives can be saved,” Sarah said.

“It’s important to get the message out that the gene testing is there. If someone had died tragically for an unknown reason, it could be to do with SADS. If I had never had gotten sick, we would never have known that there was Long QT in our family and myself and my sisters and my cousin Mary wouldn’t have known either,” she explained.

Mary’s story began 10 years ago after her sister, Martina, died at the age of 17 suddenly in her sleep.

She was just four days away from receiving her Leaving Certificate results in 2002.

Martina went to bed that night and was found the next morning. The family did not know the cause of her sudden death for a long period of time.

Mary who is from Ballybricken was in America when Sarah suffered a sudden cardiac arrest. Mary was then screened in America but two cardiologists over there said she was OK and tests came back negative. When Mary came back to Ireland she was screened in the Family Heart Screening Clinic with Dr Catherine McGorrian and the team. In March 2012 she was fitted with a defibrillator.

“The staff in Heart House couldn’t be any nicer, helpful and sincere,” said the 22-year-old. “The work they put into testing/screening families in Ireland goes without notice, without them there would be a lot more tragic SADS incidents in the country”.

After several trips to the Family Heart Screening Clinic, Mary was diagnosed with Long QT Syndrome. Mary graduated in May 2012 with a BA in Media Communications from Mary Immaculate College Limerick and is fit and healthy.