It’s Onwards and Upwards

Woman's Way

February 25, 2013

Cormac Ryan recaps on an eventful year and why he’s raising awareness of sudden cardiac death

By Sinead Ryan


From an early age Cormac Ryan always had a hurl in his hand but it wasn’t until he was 16 years old that he was put in goal for the first time … Fast forward a few seasons to September 2011 and he was playing in the field of dreams – Pair an Chrocaigh in an All Ireland Minor Final with Dublin.

Unfortunately Dublin weren’t firing on all cylinders that day and Galway stole the show.

“Reaching the All Ireland Final was an unbelievable experience, I was fit and healthy or so I thought, I was playing in one of the best stadiums in the world against some of the best players in Ireland,” says Cormac.

“Little did I know that the next few months would be one of the worst times of my life.”

After the county hurling finished in the September 2011, Cormac continued to play with his club Whitehall Colmcille. He had felt unwell all week prior to his next club game and with his asthma and the cold weather he thought it was acting up. Throughout the game, Cormac felt weak but thought nothing much of it. However, with 10 minutes left on the clock, Cormac collapsed. He was brought off in an ambulance to Tallaght Hospital where they checked his health and advised him to increase his inhaler but then sent him home.

Over the next few months, Cormack’s health deteriorated, he was constantly tired and when he went training he would get pains in his chest. This is when Cormack’s father Gerry intervened and decided to seek further advice.

“Dad knew something was wrong and he asked a family friend who was a consultant in Beaumont to do some cardiac tests. I was given a heart monitor to wear for 24 hours and before I knew it I was getting phone calls from the hospital to go straight into them.”

Cormac was rushed straight into the triage nurse and was hooked up to different machines within minutes. In the 24 hour period that they had monitored Cormac they had found numerous flatlines. “The scariest part was they found a period of 5.1 seconds when my heart wasn’t working when I was in the hospital. I was eating my breakfast and I didn’t feel a thing”.

Over the next few days Cormac’s life changed forever when the doctors told him devastating news. “First I was told that sport would be out of the question in the future and then I was told that I needed an operation. They implanted the pacemaker under the muscle, buried it quite deep, which means it has plenty of natural protection from the muscle.”

In order to get back to the norm or as normal as possible Cormac decided to set up a fundraising cycle to collection donations for CRY charity, the Irish Heart Foundation and the Cormac McAnallen Trust.

“When I first told my parents I wanted to cycle, 1,100km around the coast of the country they thought I was mad. But these days the only way to get noticed is to do something that’s a bit different. There are four of us taking on the challenge – myself, my brother Sean and my friends Niall O’Donnell and Kevin Conway.

At the moment, Cormac is back training slowly and trying to get his life back to the way it was.

“I am lucky to be alive and that is what I say to myself everyday.

“I could have easily drifted off in my sleep one night after playing a match or just collapsed on a pitch like so many others.

“Now I want to use my condition the best way possible and raise awareness so events such as Cormac McAnallen and Ciaran Carr’s deaths never happen again.”

Over 5,000 people suffer sudden cardiac death (SCD) in Ireland each year, but the vast majority of these are older people who have hardening of the arteries and suffer a true medical heart attack.

Much less commonly, SCD affects young people under 35 years, on average between 60 to 80 people per year between the ages of 1 to 35 years. Dr. Deirdre Ward form CRY charity and Tallaght Hospital states that hardening of the arteries is much less common in this age group. In about 50 per cent of cases that cause is due to a genetic condition which may run through the family.

“From what Cormac describes, his case was a slightly less common problem with a slowing down or malfunctioning of the electrical activation in his heart.

“In Cormac’s case, it seems his was intermittent – not present on every heart tracing, but perhaps becoming more frequent as the months passed, and picked up on a longer heart rhythm recording. This would be a relatively uncommon finding, as many of the conditions that can affect young people will be detectable on a resting ECG.”

For now though, 2013 is a new year and Cormac will try and start living his life again “I know that I have to be careful with what I do but I am back training on the bike and going for check-ups regularly so it’s onwards and upwards!”