When Cathal Joyce crashed to the sod in Mullingar’s Cusack Park moments before the Westmeath Championship semi-final between Athlone and Rosemount in 2015 only the quick thinking of the team’s physiotherapist, his brother James, saved his life.
James, who had been called over when Cathal complained initially of experiencing dizziness and a loss of co-ordination, immediately went into life-saver mode when Cathal collapsed by administering CPR and calling out for assistance.
Mercifully the opposition team’s doctor, Patrick Boland, and a cardiac nurse from Mullingar hospital, Stacy Egan, also jumped into action to administer additional rounds of CPR while a defibrillator was sourced.
But for the three rounds of CPR to keep his blood circulating and the ‘shock’ from the defibrillator Cathal would have died.
He was just 25 years of age and was suffering a cardiac arrest.
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“It was the strangest experience. I had warmed-up with the team (Athlone GAA Club) in the school behind Cusack Park and there was no issue. We went into the dressing-rooms, put on our jerseys, went out onto the pitch for a photo and there wasn’t a hint of anything being wrong.
“Then suddenly, during the light kick-around before the game I started feeling dizzy and seemed to lose coordination so I got one of the other lads to bring me over to the dug-out.”
“I would have died on that pitch. CPR and the presence of a defibrillator at Cusack Park saved my life, no question”
From there, things only got worse. As his brother James – Athlone’s official physio – was attending to him Cathal’s eyesight deteriorated quickly and he collapsed.
That’s when the life-saving trio of James, Dr Patrick Boland and Cardiac Nurse Stacy Egan went through the crucial steps of the ‘Chain of Survival’ – Recognition, early CPR and early defibrillation – and saved Cathal’s life.
From there Cathal was taken to Mullingar Hospital by ambulance and went through a battery of tests; everything from ECG, Stress Test, Echo Test, Angiogram and a Cardiac MRI. Days later he was diagnosed with Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy.
Six months after his cardiac arrest and discharge from hospital Cathal was back playing football – “I scored 2-2!” – but is doing so with an ICD implanted under his left collar-bone.
If your heart suddenly stops you only have a 1 in 10 chance of surviving a cardiac arrest. But the more people that know CPR, the more lives we can save.
“If I need a belt I’ll get it!” is how he describes it. “I wear a modified vest under my football jersey that protects the area where the ICD is implanted. I’m not playing at the intensity I used to, but I’m playing, which is fantastic.”