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A sneeze could have killed me

Living

LUCKY Seamus Geraghty hopes his experience might prompt others to get health problems checked out, no matter how innocuous those problems might seem.

A year ago, doctors told Westport barman Seamus Geraghty that he should be dead

Anton McNulty

“Stay alive until Monday and I’ll take care of you from there.” They were the stark words given to Westport man Seamus Geraghty 12 months ago as he lay on his bed in the Galway Clinic after an angiogram.
The 52-year-old active volunteer in the Westport Coast Guard, who never smoked or drank, had just been informed that three of his arteries were 99 percent blocked.
“The cardiologist asked my sister, who is a nurse, how I was walking or breathing, and that scared the life out of me,” he revealed to The Mayo News, shortly after the first anniversary of his near-death experience.
“I was brought in [for an angiogram] on Wednesday. I thought I’d be getting a stent and away, but it turned out I needed a triple bypass. The surgeon came in and told me straight, ‘Stay alive until Monday and I’ll take care of you from there’.  
“They said a sneeze could take me at that stage … They didn’t know how I was functioning at all,” said Seamus, who is well known in Westport as a familiar face behind the bar in Matt Molloy’s Pub.
As well as being a member of the Westport Coast Guard, Seamus lived an active lifestyle, walking regularly as well as playing squash and jet-skiing. Although Seamus’ mother died from a heart attack aged 65, it never dawned on him at any time that he had a heart condition. But he now realises that there were subtle signs.
“Two years before the operation I remember walking up a hill in Inishlyre [island in Clew Bay] and I had to stop a number of times. I couldn’t breathe and had chest pain but as men do I blamed it on not being fit.
“Gradually I got exhausted and rundown and had just enough energy to get through a day. I was scraping by everyday. I thought it was just late nights working in Matt Molloy’s and not sleeping properly. I live on Hillside and walk up and down [steep] Peter’s Street very regularly. I was finding it tough to get home and getting stuck on the hill. It creeps up on you over time. I just got used to it.”
Seamus also suffered from reflux and gastro problems that left him bent over in pain. He also suffered from short-term memory loss, another symptom of a heart condition, but feared he was getting dementia and never contemplated a heart problem.
“I blamed everything else but what it was. I thought when I was tired it was late nights, when I got gastro I thought it was something I had eaten. You get used to living that way, it becomes a way of life.”
It was when he got ‘stuck’ while walking down Peter’s Street hill in Westport that Seamus knew he had to go see a doctor.
“I’d tighten up with a pain in my chest, shoulders tightening, breathing problems, and I’d have to wait five to ten minutes to move again. I told my wife Ann I needed to go to the doctor and to make an appointment for the morning.”
However, the next day, Seamus felt great and figured he didn’t need to go after all. Ann had different ideas, though, and she pushed him out the door.
Thankfully for Seamus she did, because shortly afterwards he was in the Galway Clinic where he underwent a stress test. He was let go home, but ordered to return to the hospital the next week. In between, he somehow managed to survive the emotion of witnessing Westport win the All-Ireland Intermediate Club title from the stands in Croke Park.
Looking at Seamus and and knowing his fitness levels, you would have not put him down as a prime candidate for blocked arteries. In the absence of the typical lifestyle causes, the doctors could not give a definite answer as to why his heart problems occurred. In the end they said it was either hereditary, or possibly the effects of passive smoke from working in pubs.
Seamus returned to work in Matt Molloy’s in October. The colour has returned to his cheeks, and he is able to walk hills without getting stuck half way. Realising just how lucky he is to be alive, he urges people who may have symptoms to go to their doctor and explain everything.
“It is about recognising the symptoms. If there is something wrong with your car you get it fixed. Like myself people say ‘Ara I will be be alright’. But if you recognise you have some of the symptoms I had, I would push for an angiogram. You don’t want the other outcome.
“I mightn’t have told him [his doctor] early but I told him eventually and was just about in time. I have the scars to remind me, but they don’t bother me at all. It is better to live with the scars than to be gone without them. Every day when I get up I realise how lucky I am. It is nice to celebrate a first anniversary for living and not for dying.”
Seamus says he has plenty of living to do yet, pointing out that he recently met a man who had a triple bypass 25 years previously.
“I feel fighting fit now. I looked at Croagh Patrick a few years ago and thought never again will I climb it. But looking at it now I say ‘Bring it on’.”

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