I was 17 when my father died of a heart attack


MY HEALTH EXPERIENCE:Everybody has a theory as to why my father died so young, relates ROB MORGAN

THE IRISH Heart Foundation came to me and my two brothers, Don and Ben, because our father, Dermot Morgan, died of a heart attack at the age of 45.

As part of Heart Month, the foundation is running a free mobile blood pressure roadshow nationwide, where free blood pressure checks will be offered in the hope of reducing people’s risk of heart attack and stroke.

That was the catalyst to get us involved, but, what the foundation didn’t know was that I suffer from high blood pressure myself.

I had no idea I had high blood pressure when I went to the doctor with swollen feet in October 2008. I had just come back that April, from working in London in the hotel industry. I had a bit of a virus in November of the previous year and I was feeling very run down, putting on weight and feeling a bit lethargic.

I had already made a very conscious decision when I moved home that I was going to get a job with less stress. I deliberately chose a type of job working in an office that wouldn’t tax my body a whole heap.

That was not to do with my father, but there was a realisation that certain jobs can put a toll on your body and I didn’t want to do that to myself anymore. After some blood tests, the doctor told me I had both high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

It is one of those things that you never suspect you will have when you are only 28. It sent alarm bells off in my head because Dermot had died young of a heart attack.

I was referred to a cardiologist. Thankfully, it was nothing heart-related, but it is something that I need to be aware of and monitor in the future. Hypertension is one of the things that can happen to anyone.

I now have to make sure that I get regular exercise, that I eat properly and take my medication. At present I’m on the drug Lestace which is the standard treatment for high pressure. I play five-a-side football every week and hockey for Pembroke Wanderers in Ballsbridge. I will never play either sport at the highest level, but it is enough to keep me happy. I learned from an early age about the importance of exercise to my physical and mental wellbeing.

To say my hypertension is genetic would not be a logical conclusion. I have high blood pressure, but neither of my two brothers does. Dermot had some medical checks around the time of Father Ted, but he was not suffering from high blood pressure or anything else.

It is more likely as a result of working in a high pressure environment as duty manager in a five star hotel. I had been doing that for most of my career and my time in London was the most demanding.

Working in a hotel environment is difficult. I wasn’t keeping good hours, I didn’t have a great diet at the time. I was living from ready meal to fast food to ready meal and burning the candle at both ends. That is never good for anyone. Hotels are all I know though and I love them.

I have never really been interested in being involved in showbiz. At TedFest I present the Lovely Girls Contest, but that’s about all. I love doing that side of it, but at 32 I’m probably too late to make a permanent career shift into something like that – although it would be fun.

I was 17 when my father died in February 1998. He was in London at the time and we were in Dublin.

My brother and I had been out in Blackrock with some friends. When we came home there was a message from my aunt (my father’s sister) Denise to ask my mother to give her a call.

The timing of the message was really strange. I never suspected it was anything like a heart attack. There has never been a history of heart disease in the family that we know of, so it was the last thing I thought of.

When my mother came home and she was on the phone to my aunt, my uncle Paul (my father’s brother) arrived at the front door. At that stage I knew something was terribly wrong.

There was no indication that he was unwell as far as we were aware. It was a complete bolt from the blue for his death to happen. It is not something that I would ever like to go through in my life again.

I take comfort that at least Dermot did not die slowly and painfully from illness. We were spared that suffering as he was too. He went out at the top of his game.

Everybody has a theory as to why my father died so young. My personal one is that he grew up in Ireland in the 1950s and 1960s when if it didn’t have a pound of butter or salt in it, it wasn’t food.

Saturated fats are a great way of going about killing yourself.

He kept fit, he played football and he didn’t smoke. Ben, my youngest brother, was only five when my father died so he was running around after him too. He kept himself as well as any man could, given his circumstances.

That said you can’t go at a million miles an hour all the time and it not take a toll on our body.

When he was shooting Father Ted, he was rehearsing all week and it was shot on a Friday. He then took two days off and it was back into rehearsal again. That was straight through the run.

If he was on a touring schedule where he was playing different places in Ireland every night, he was keeping long hours and not getting great sleep. Your body is being worked hard all the time. It is like any piece of machinery, if you overuse it for long enough, it will take a toll at some point.

I like to watch repeats of Father Ted now. It’s great to see him as he was then at his peak. I didn’t really watch it the first time. I was probably a bit young for it. Now I love it. Rather than thinking of him being dead at 45, I get to see him and I get to remember him as I last saw him – as this smiling happy guy with a mop of grey hair.

In conversation with Ronan McGreevy

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