Gerard Clancy has just returned from his first holiday in 15 years. Looking tanned and relaxed, reminiscing about the countries he visited in his Navy days, he does not look like a man whose heart is monitored 24/7.
But 14 years ago, Gerard’s life changed completely. He had just driven home with his wife and son. He can’t remember much of what happened next but he thinks he must have suddenly felt very warm as he walked into the bedroom, took his t–shirt off…and collapsed. He was rushed to Altnagelvin and his family were told that the next 24 hours were critical. The next day saw a slight improvement but within minutes it was gone and Gerry was were travelling to the RVH in Belfast for surgery. His daughter Jacqui describes it as the scariest car journey of her life. Thankfully Gerry pulled through the surgery and the two stents he had fitted seemed to do the trick.
However, this was short lived and Gerry spent roughly one week every month in hospital for quite a few years with chest pain which the doctors couldn’t explain. Eventually in 2011, Gerry was fitted with an ICD, an implantable cardioverter defibrillator. In layman’s terms, this is a pacemaker which monitors his heartbeat and if it detects a problem with his heart rhythms, the defib will kick in and shock his heart back action. He also took home an “interrogator”, one of the first patients in Northern Ireland to do so, which is a machine that receives data from the ICD and transmits it to the RVH where any changes in his condition can be picked up without delay.
The ICD has made a huge difference to Gerry’s life. He is due to get new batteries fitted shortly, but this small procedure is worth it. No longer does he have to worry about not picking up the symptoms of any further heart problems. The ICD will detect any problems and put them right probably before Gerry is aware of them, not that this has happened. But Gerry knows that for other people, they need to be aware of the symptoms so that they can take action immediately. He is passionate about letting people know the symptoms of a heart attack and is joining NICHS in distributing information in the Ballymagroarty and Hazelbank areas where he lives. Gerry didn’t get much warning about his heart attack but he still recognises the importance of getting help quickly. He was rushed to Altnagelvin where treatment started immediately. The first 24 hours are critical so the sooner you get help the better, and now that Altnagelvin has its own angioplasty services, treatment is even quicker.
He also wants to tell other people with pacemakers that it is possible to go on holiday. Gerry shopped around for travel insurance which would allow him to take this break and eventually found a company willing to insure him for hundreds rather than thousands of pounds.
Find out more about the cardiac support services that Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke offer.