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Column: Like Fabrice Muamba, I was one of the lucky ones...

Marcus Ó Buachalla got himself checked out after twice collapsing while training with Kilmacud Crokes. And he’s thankful he did.

Fabrice Muamba suffered a cardiac arrest during Saturday's game with Spurs.
Fabrice Muamba suffered a cardiac arrest during Saturday's game with Spurs.
Image: (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

THE EVENTS AT the weekend involving Fabrice Muamba got me thinking… I have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

It’s a condition in which the heart muscle becomes thick. This thickening makes it harder for blood to leave the heart, forcing it to work harder to pump blood. To add to the mix my electrics are a bit off as well.

But at least I know what I have and have regular check-ups but it wasn’t always like that.

In 2004, I collapsed while training with Kilmacud Crokes. Only for the fact that one of my team mates was a nurse, I would never have had myself checked out.

I was in the middle of exams, sugar levels were up and down, sleep was erratic, study the same! There were plenty of reasons for me to dismiss the collapse as just one of those things.

But Eddie told me otherwise. From a quick check, he thought my heartrate was a bit off so to get it checked out with my GP.

To cut a long story short, after visiting the doctor I was admitted to the Coronary Care Unit (CCU) in St Vincent’s Hospital. I was the youngest patient by some distance. Four and a half weeks later I was released after any amount of tests with doctors still confused as to why I had collapsed. However all the signs indicated a problem with my heart.

The wall of the heart was ever so slightly swollen. My heart rate was extremely low and every so often it would start racing for no apparent reason. How low? It was as low as 17-18 beats a minute when I slept and was a sluggish 40-45 beats per minute when just resting normally.

I was only 23 at the time. Cormac MacAnallen had passed away that same year and all sorts of scary conditions were being mentioned but they couldn’t be sure. Without a concrete diagnosis, I was allowed back to play football with Crokes. No medicine but six-monthly check-ups. I was delighted.

Out cold

When I collapsed for a second time in 2006 that was it; bye-bye football. It happened again at training, same pitch actually, up in Silverpark.

This time I was out cold. Luckily the Kilmacud senior team were playing on the pitch next to us and they had their doctor in attendance, Dr Pat Duggan, who is well known in GAA circles. An ambulance was called and while I did come around without the need for medical intervention, back to the CCU with me. Still the youngest patient by a good 30 years but this time it seemed much more real.

Let me be clear. Not for one minute am I looking to compare what I have gone through to what happened at the weekend to Fabrice Muamba or indeed to others who have not been as lucky. The incident at the weekend did get me thinking though and it highlights the vast difference between the level at which Muamba is at and the level at which most of us are at and the value that must be placed at every level, on defibrillators.

I was lucky. I stopped playing and pushing myself on a regular basis because my issue was spotted. However, only for the fact that a team-mate was a nurse I would never have visited my GP and I would have continued pushing myself.

Others have not been and will not be as lucky.

It would appear that Muamba is making steady progress and hopefully that continues. He was also lucky that it happened when it did. With any amount of medical staff present from both teams and also stadium staff, plus an ambulance at the ready, he had the best of care right there. Would this be the case at Bolton’s training facility I wonder?

At an amateur level, whether training or playing, often the freeze spray and the rolls of bandages that nobody ever knows what to do with are often the only items at a team’s disposal. It is not practical to expect every grassroots activity to have the level of medical expertise as Muamba had at his disposal. But it is practical in my opinion to have defibrillators at every sports ground.

It is expensive but it is money well spent.

For every raffle that is organised to buy a new set of jerseys, why not organise a similar one to buy a defibrillator? As for me, I am back with Crokes after a gap of four years – training here and there to keep myself tipping along but no training three nights a week with gym in between.

I do it now for the pure enjoyment and in the knowledge that I was one of the lucky ones.

Marcus Ó Buachalla is an account manager with Pembroke Communications. This post first appeared at IrishMediaWatch.

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Marcus Ó Buachalla

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