Act F.A.S.T.

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Mark Cagney

YOU CAN GO ON, OR YOU CAN GO UNDER

“You can go on or you can go under,” this was the stark choice facing legendary broadcaster, journalist, and TV presenter Mr Mark Cagney after he suffered a life-altering stroke earlier this year.

The 65-year-old father of four, best known for presenting Ireland AM on Virgin Media Television for more than 20 years, recalled how suddenly collapsed in his local supermarket in early January this year.

During the short drive to the supermarket from his home in North Dublin Mark he said he began to experience a buzzing noise in his head. The noise which he said sounded like “a swarm of bees” continued and he also noticed that he was suddenly having difficulty with spatial awareness.

Putting the strange symptoms down to missing breakfast, Mark went into the supermarket to do his shopping. The trip was short lived however, as he suddenly collapsed onto the ground. A few minutes later he came to and was helped to his feet by shop workers who phoned his family. Once back home Mark collapsed a second time and was advised to go to Beaumont Hospital to get checked out.

He said he was anxious about attending hospital particularly at that time in January when the country was in the grip of the third wave of COVID-19 however, he said he received excellent care and was triaged in a separate non COVID Emergency Department on arrival at Beaumont.

After a battery of tests doctors told the fit and healthy 65-year-old that he had suffered an acute ischaemic stroke and a pulmonary embolism or clot on his lung.

According to Mark, people should know the F.A.S.T. signs as well as they know the alphabet or how to count.

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Despite the worrying diagnosis, Mark said he felt incredibly lucky because he did not suffer any serious long term cognitive or physical disability. Having spent time in Beaumont Hospital’s Stroke Unit he was acutely aware of how devastating a debilitating stroke can be and said he felt almost embarrassed to be taking up a stroke bed given how incredibly fortunate he had been.

While Mark says he felt lucky that he escaped the worst ravages of stroke, he did lose part of his vision in one eye and developed difficulties with spatial awareness. This means that he can no longer drive which he said was, “a small price to pay”.

While it was a frightening experience Mark said that today he feels very well and that he never actually felt sick in the conventional sense of the word. However, he did suffer from extreme post-stroke fatigue which 10 months later is getting better and the tinnitus in his head is still there.

Although he was spared the hugely debilitating physical impact of stroke Mark spoke candidly about the enormous psychological effect it had on him which included a number “long nights of the soul.”

Describing the time after his stroke as period of “existential crisis” Mark said he found his mind going “down a rabbit hole” one that the majority of stroke survivors know all too well.

His mind was full of questions like, “Who am I now? Who am I post stroke? Who can I be ? Can I go back to being who I was?”

Mark who is acutely aware that no two strokes are the same and that his experience was unique to him was extremely reticent to give advice to anyone who has recently suffered a stroke. However, he said what worked for him was not focusing on life before his stroke and what he could no longer do, but instead putting his energy into what he could do today post stroke.

“It’s a rabbit hole that I think everybody who has a stroke will go down to some extent…but you do not need to go all the way down. What stopped me halfway down was, I’m looking back, I’m thinking about where I was. That’s no good, because this has happened, and it has changed my life. It may very well have changed my life for the worse, but it may also very well have changed my life for the better. So, I asked myself where am I now… what can I do? And see how you can use that going forward.”

“This can happen to anyone and everyone. It doesn't matter if you were Superman or Superwoman."

Mark Cagney

Today Mark has returned to work at Newstalk radio and is back doing what he loves most. He has kindly lent his support to the Irish Heart Foundation’s F.A.S.T. campaign to help raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of stroke and to thank those that cared for him in Beaumont Hospital.

While Mark did not have the classic F.A.S.T. symptoms of a stroke he knows the importance of getting help in a timely manner. Time is brain and the faster you act the more of the person you can save.

According to Mark, people should know the F.A.S.T. signs as well as they know the alphabet or how to count.

“It’s like having a first aid box at home. It’s just one of those things that you should know because a stroke could happen to anyone,” he said.

“This can happen to anyone and everyone. It doesn’t matter if you were Superman or Superwoman. If a vessel pops or it clogs. It will drop you. So, if you don’t know the signs then you’re in even bigger trouble than you were in to start with.”

Faced with the choice to go on or go under he said there were too many people supporting, encouraging, and depending on him to choose the later.

“I can say to anyone who is going through this is the mistake I made was thinking ‘can I get back to where I was?, which of course, completely ignores and denies what I have just gone through, which changed everything, because it is life altering. What you need to do is not think about can I get back to where I was, you have to think about, Okay, in this new reality how do I go forward?” Mark stated.