Belfast Telegraph

Ex-MLA O'Reilly hails medics who saved him after heart attack

By Donna Deeney

A former MLA who suffered a near-fatal cardiac arrest is urging other men to get regular check-ups.

Thomas O'Reilly admitted he rarely went to the doctor, but as he had none of the red flag indicators of a heart attack he was lulled into thinking he was in good health.

Despite never smoking, drinking only an occasional glass of red wine, eating a healthy diet and taking a moderate amount of exercise, Mr O'Reilly (53) woke up on March 15 with chest pains.

Within 30 seconds he realised the pain he was experiencing was serious, so he contacted the emergency services - a call that saved his life.

He was rushed to Altnagelvin Hospital in Londonderry where he was worked on for around 40 minutes, and had a stent put in to unblock an artery.

Later he was transferred to the South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen, and was later discharged.

Mr O'Reilly, who was a Sinn Fein MLA for Fermanagh-South Tyrone from 2003 to 2007, said people shouldn't make assumptions about their health.

He said men in particular should visit their GP more.

Mr O'Reilly said: "I had absolutely no reason to think I was a candidate for a heart attack. I had reasonably good health all during my life.

"I eat a well-balanced diet, I am a canoeist so I exercise, and I come from a farm so I am outdoors a lot. I am maybe a tiny bit overweight but nothing that you would notice. I drink the odd glass of red wine but that's about the height of it.

"As it turned out, my heart condition was hereditary, but no one in the family died young so there was no reason for me to be concerned.

"I would say that people shouldn't think they are invincible - it can happen to anyone and at any age so people should be aware. Doing all the right things is important but above all people should go an get checked out.

"As they say, prevention is better than cure, and while women are inclined to go to their GPs, men have an attitude of 'it'll go away'. But once you have a heart attack the damage is done."

Two weeks on Mr O'Reilly is continuing his recovery. He was back home with his partner Rosie just two days after falling ill, and was able to watch Ireland secure the Six Nations Grand Slam on St Patrick's Day.

After suffering his heart attack at home, Mr O'Reilly went into cardiac arrest in the ambulance.

While he remembers little about his experience, it has left him with a new appreciation of the health service.

He said: "I realised very quickly that the pain in my chest was more than indigestion so I dialled 999 within 30 seconds of waking up - and within minutes the first responders were with us here at the house.

"The ambulance arrived shortly after and I was on my way to Altnagelvin, but on our way there I went into cardiac arrest. The ambulance pulled over and the two guys worked on me and got me back again.

"I don't remember dying but I remember waking up to one guy doing CPR.

"I wasn't scared because I had quite a bit of morphine in me so I didn't appreciate the gravity of it all.

"I do remember a series of faces over me as I was lifted on to the operating table and the next thing someone was telling me: 'That's it, you're all done'. All in all, I don't have a great recollection, but it has left me eternally grateful to all the medical staff that helped me.

"At times we say the system doesn't work and people have to wait hours for admission into hospital, people are on waiting lists for years, but I can't praise enough the cardiac unit at Altnagelvin.

"Despite everything, we are incredible lucky to have the health service filled with such dedicated staff who, no matter how busy they are, take the time to make sure your fears about your recovery are listened to.

"After something like this it is only natural to be concerned but I have been reassured by the staff, and although I will now be on medication for the rest of my life, it is a small price to pay.

"Two days after I had my stent in I was out home again in time to watch the rugby game between Ireland and England - and I suppose that was as good a test as anything of my heart."

Belfast Telegraph

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