Michael Madigan’s life changed forever on Friday 20th October 2016. It was the day before his 48th birthday. Michael was standing in his kitchen in Co. Cavan when he began to feel very unwell. He had a sharp pain in his chest, pins and needles in both arms and was sweating.
While at home with his young daughter Grace who was getting ready for school, Michael didn’t want to cause panic, but knew something was seriously wrong and that he could be having a heart attack. He called 999 almost immediately and within 15 minutes an ambulance with three paramedics had arrived.
Michael’s wife Kate who works as a Clinical Nurse Manager at Cavan General Hospital arrived home from her night shift at the same time. Their son Daniel had already gone to school.
Michael who previously worked as a Clinical Nurse Manager walked out to the ambulance with the paramedics who were chatting to him about football while they were assessing him. However, the casual talk soon stopped after the results of a 12-lead ECG revealed he was having a STEMI heart attack. A STEMI (ST Elevated Myocardial Infarction) is generally a more serious type of heart attack, where the risk of complications and death without timely and appropriate medical intervention is very high. STEMI is thought to represent one quarter of all heart attacks in Ireland each year.
Michael was brought to the local GAA pitch in Arva to meet an air ambulance to bring him directly to the Mater Hospital in Dublin. Kate dropped Grace to a neighbour’s house before waving Michael off from the pitch with a local Garda Dan, who is also a friend. After a 30-minute flight Michael arrived at the Phoenix Park and travelled by a second ambulance to the Mater Hospital.
He was brought straight to the cathlab where they found two blockages and inserted two stents. “It was a very cold place and I was awake for the entire procedure. Everyone asked if I smoked, because I was 48 and it was very unusual for a 48-year-old non-smoking male to have a very serious heart attack. I had to keep telling everyone that I have never smoked. I was having coffee and toast in recovery and feeling much better by the time my brother visited me at lunchtime”.
Michael returned by a third ambulance to Cavan General Hospital later that day and spent the following 7 nights in the Coronary Care Unit. During this time he was told that his heart muscle had been damaged and that he had heart failure.
“It was quite a shock. It sounds like a death sentence and your time is up. I googled it and that was a big mistake."
Michael added: “My sister is a Cardiology Nurse and she reassured me that it is possible to live well with heart failure.
“I’ve been very lucky to receive excellent care and treatment from everyone involved on my heart journey, including the Irish Heart Foundation and I’m very grateful for that.
“When I look back on my lifestyle before my heart attack I didn’t look after my health very well, my diet wasn’t great and I didn’t exercise very much. My family also had some previous experience of cardiovascular disease, which my Dad passed away from aged 67.”
Now Michael who just turned 55 in October has made many changes to his lifestyle since, focusing on eating and sleeping well. He endeavours to walk 10,000 steps each day, takes part in swimming, circuit training and only drinks in moderation and ensures to take his medication as prescribed. Michael has an annual outpatient appointment at the Mater Hospital with his Cardiologist Professor Niall Mahon. He also has an ECG, echocardiogram and an ICD check at the same Cardiology Clinic. He is also seen by his local Cardiologist and Heart Failure Nurses at Cavan General Hospital when needed.
“There are three actions which I think helped to save my life on the day of my heart attack. The first is recognising the signs and calling 999 almost immediately, the second is the paramedic calling for the air ambulance once my STEMI heart attack was diagnosed so there was no time lost and the third was the doctors in the cathlab making good decisions about how to treat me.”
Michael returned to work in the Spring and coincidentally on the 20th of October 2017, the same date as his heart attack, he felt unwell with very cold hands and extremely low heart rate. His manager advised him to go to the doctor on call, who then sent him to Cavan General Hospital for further assessment. It was confirmed that his heart rate was very low and he had irregular heart rhythms. Michael was told that he could have had a cardiac arrest at any time and was advised that he needed to get an ICD. Michael had his ICD fitted after a few weeks of waiting for the surgery.
Michael retired in April 2018, six months before his 50th birthday. He uses his extra time now to keep himself as well as possible, spend more time with his family and friends and engages in meaningful activities like volunteering with the Irish Heart Foundation and other organisations.
Michael recently graduated as a Patient Champion from the Irish Heart Foundation Patient Champions Programme. Launched in March 2023, the programme connects heart and stroke patients across Ireland who can work together for changes needed in cardiac and stroke care, of which there are many. Each patient champion receives a range of ongoing peer and professional advocacy training. All to help champion patient issues at local and national level and share their personal views and experiences.
He said of the programme “I have just completed the training. Being able to help other heart and stroke patients is extremely rewarding. Some people can really struggle with a diagnosis and can need help getting supports.
"Life doesn’t stop just because you have a heart condition, some people still have responsibilities like raising children, paying a mortgage and continuing to work, which can present additional challenges."
If you are a heart or stroke patient and would like to join the Patient Champions Programme, please contact Pauline at email@example.com