'My family and friends were told that I might not survive'

Tue, Feb 19, 2013, 00:00

At the age of 21, William Ross went, with no warning, from feeling faint to being put on a life-support machine

‘When I was growing up, I never had the slightest idea there was anything wrong with my heart. Looking back, I did have a few small fainting incidents and always felt completely exhausted after rugby matches, but I didn’t think anything of it at the time.

“Then on July 2nd, 2011, I was sitting in a friend’s house watching a big boxing match on TV and was asked to bring some of the lads to Dunshaughlin.

“So off we went – I was driving and suddenly felt unwell as if I was going to faint. I told the lads and they said ‘stop messing around’. That’s the last thing I remember from that evening.

“Afterwards I was told that I passed out and Donal O’Connor, who was in the passenger seat, managed to save the car and bring it to a safe stopping point and stop it from crashing and injuring all of us.

“Shane Williams was sitting behind me and managed to keep me sitting up. When the car was stopped, they got me out. Shane performed CPR on me on the side of the road while Donal rang the ambulance which was 10 minutes away.

“When it arrived, the paramedics took over from Shane’s efforts to resuscitate me. The crew made a couple of attempts and then used a defibrillator, then I was rushed to Blanchardstown Memorial Hospital were I was worked on.”

William (who is studying marketing in Tallaght College) was critically ill at this point and as medics did all they could to save him, family and friends were told that he might not survive.

“Once I arrived at the hospital, I was put on a life-support machine and my body was cooled with ice as this apparently increases the survival of cardiac arrest patients,” he says. “The doctors were fighting to save my life and thanks to their dedication and that of the nursing staff in the ICU unit, I made it through.

“All my friends and family rushed to the hospital that night. I was supposed to be babysitting with my girlfriend Dearbhla Power and a friend collected her and brought her to the hospital. She had no idea what was happening until she got there as no one knew what to tell her.

“My mam and dad were asleep in bed and after multiple attempts to try wake them up, they eventually realised the phones were ringing and they knew something was wrong.

“My sister Jamie was at The Script concert when Shane finally got through to her – he was screaming down the phone trying to tell her that I had been in an accident and she thought it was me messing on the phone. But she soon realised that it wasn’t a joke and had to call my other sister Stuartina, who was teaching in China, to tell her to get home as there was only a 50-50 chance I would survive the cardiac arrest. She got the first flight home.

“When I came through, I couldn’t remember much and kept forgetting what people were telling me. I was kept in ICU for three weeks and then transferred to the Mater hospital, where my defibrillator was fitted.

“Originally the doctors thought I had sudden adult death syndrome and we believed this for a few months until we visited the Heart House where I underwent a few tests. The results gave the doctors new information, which led to them thinking I could have CPVT [catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia].

“I was fitted with a 24-hour heart monitor and afterwards, got bloods taken and was sent to Manchester for testing.

“Six months later my condition [CVPT] was confirmed, so my family were tested to see how far the genetics are carried. My mother could be the carrier of the heart condition and her blood tests are waiting to come back. She is also scheduled for a defibrillator fitting.

“The Heart House at the Mater plays a huge role in my life as, without them, I could be undiagnosed and not on the right medication for my condition. Instead I am on the right treatment and know what I am living with, which is a great relief.

“I think it is important to raise awareness about conditions like mine so more research can be done to try to prevent fatalities, so that testing can be done from birth and the right procedures can be put in place to save lives.

“Both my family and I think it should be mandatory for all kids to learn CPR in school. If Shane hadn’t known what to do, I would probably be dead.”

Cardiac screening: families can be checked for conditions

In Ireland, more than one young person dies from an undiagnosed heart condition each week. The Mater Heart Appeal raises funds for its family heart screening clinic, where relatives of loved ones, who have died from SADS (sudden adult death syndrome) or survived a sudden cardiac arrest, can be screened for undiagnosed heart conditions.

Thanks to the speedy response of his friends, William Ross survived a sudden cardiac arrest in the summer of 2011.

The 21 year old has since been fitted with a defibrillator and his siblings have been tested for genetic heart defects at the Mater clinic.

This month the Mater Heart Appeal is encouraging people to donate online at materfoundation.ieor to buy a Mater Heart badge on sale at €2.

For further information please contact the Mater Foundation helpline on 01- 830 3482.

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