How quick actions averted a tragedy in Ulster

I was at our club’s pitch last Wednesday night when it emerged that Kevin McCloy had collapsed during a championship match at Owenbeg.

How quick actions averted a tragedy in Ulster

The U12 and U16 teams had just completed their training sessions so a few coaches had gathered in the car park. A club member who had attended the game between Lavey and Magherafelt returned with the terrible news.

In the 11th minute of the match, and with Magherafelt leading by 0-2 to 0-0, the former Derry captain took a free-kick from his defence.

After McCloy kicked the ball straight to an opponent from Magherafelt, he slumped to the ground.

Lavey’s physios immediately rushed out and put McCloy into the recovery position.

Lavey’s medical team were quickly followed by the CPNI Ambulance Service. CPNI is a private health firm.

The Derry County Board pays for their ambulance service to attend its club championship fixtures.

From the reaction of the people who were on the pitch, it quickly became apparent that Kevin McCloy’s life was in serious danger.

Onlookers could see that Lavey’s manager John Brennan was visibly distressed. The former Derry boss had his head in his hands and was doubled over with concern. Seamus Downey, the club chairman, was pacing around the medical personnel frantic with worry. A supporter, who was at the game, described the scene.

“It was horrendous. They tried to give Kevin some privacy by putting advertising hoarding around him but people could see that he was receiving CPR [cardiopulmonary resuscitation].

“The whole crowd went quiet. Owenbeg was virtually silent. It was very disturbing.”

Kevin is 35. He is married to Cathy and they have two children, Michael and Cassie. A civil engineer, the former All Star lined out on the new pitch at Owenbeg where he found himself fighting for his next breath.

The treatment he received during those few minutes after his heart stopped pumping saved his life.

For the clubs, communities and county boards that would like to absorb the valuable lessons from this minor miracle, it’s necessary to recount exactly what happened.

When the medics from CPNI treated McCloy, they applied the ABCD formula which they are trained to follow in emergency situations.

The acronym stand for: Airwaves, Breathing, Circulation and Defibrillator.

First, McCloy’s gum shield was removed. Next, a mask was placed over his mouth and he was given pure oxygen. Then CPR was conducted. But it wasn’t all plain sailing. When the CPNI medic who treated McCloy tried to use the ambulance’s defibrillator, he encountered a problem. Every second was crucial. When he applied the pads of the defibrillator to McCloy’s body, they wouldn’t stick. McCloy’s body was covered in sweat. The wet body hair prevented the pads from staying in place.

Fortunately, the Derry County Board has three defibrillators at Owenbeg. The defibrillator that is stored near the tunnel at the halfway line was also brought to the emergency scene.

When the pads from the first one failed to keep their grip, the medic was able to use the county board’s defibrillator. After wiping off the film of sweat, the pads held firm. The charge helped restart Kevin McCloy’s heart and save his life.

All the medical personnel who treated Kevin McCloy deserve a huge amount of credit. So too does the Derry County Board. It was the county board that paid for CPNI’s services. It was the county board that coughed up £2,400 (€3,000) for three defibrillators. It has proved to be money well spent.

However, the moral of this sobering story shouldn’t just be that defibrillators save lives. That’s not entirely true. Following the death of Cormac McAnallen in 2004, the Cormac Trust has done a huge amount of work raising awareness of sudden cardiac deaths in young people. The Cormac Trust has promoted the benefits of defibrillators and encouraged sports clubs to have them installed at their grounds.

In Derry, a recent survey revealed 95% of the county’s clubs have defibrillators. But, it’s still worth considering what would happen if a player or spectator suffered a heart problem during an ordinary club game when there are no paramedics on duty.

Kevin’s life was saved because the defibrillator at Owenbeg was immediately accessible. A few years after GAA clubs started buying defibrillators, the Cormac Trust realised the equipment was literally being kept under lock and key. And sometimes there was only one key. In an emergency, the life-saving device would be rendered useless if the key-holder wasn’t present.

Apart from being easy to access, the storage location is also very important. The Derry County Board has three defibrillators at Owenbeg because it is a 54-acre site. The units are dotted around the complex.

Most clubs now have two or three pitches. But how many clubs have more than one defibrillator? In Owenbeg, the storage unit on the main pitch was installed at the halfway line. A lot of clubs keep theirs at one end of the field. What happens if the emergency takes place at the opposite part of the ground? Those extra seconds could be crucial.

Although treated by a fully trained medic, who didn’t do anything wrong, Kevin still had to rely on a second defibrillator to save his life. When the first attempt failed, the medic still had the presence of mind to remain calm, identify the problem, and try again.

How would an ordinary club member have reacted in those stressful circumstances? The Cormac Trust recommends that club volunteers should receive refresher training every six months. The pads and the batteries should also be checked regularly.

A bit of diligence can make a huge difference. As the Derry GAA family discovered last Wednesday, it can save a man’s life.

The rescheduled game between Lavey and Magherafelt will take place in Owenbeg tonight at 8pm. Admission is free. Voluntary donations will be collected at the turnstiles. All proceeds will go to The Cormac Trust.

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