An Appreciation: Prof David Foley


David Patrick Foley, who died earlier this year aged 59, was one the most gifted and progressive interventional cardiologists of his time. During the 17 years that he practised as a consultant and professor at Beaumont Hospital and the Medical School of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, he transformed the cardiology department to a unit synonymous with high volume and innovative cardiac interventional techniques and expertise.

Up to the time of his illness in August 2019, Prof Foley shared his expertise nationally and internationally through demonstrations and lectures at cardiology conferences. A colleague and contemporary of David’s noted that observers knew they were watching a consummate professional at work.

His greatest attribute, however, was his engaging personality combined with his ability as a communicator. He was a natural teacher and mentor of younger colleagues and trainees to whom he was generous with his time in supervising their research work and helping to write their theses.

With all of his clinical, scientific and technical prowess, however, his first priority and concern was always for the welfare of his patients. They in turn were in awe that a man of his evident brilliance who provided treatment and reassurance, could be so down to earth and engaging about issues other than their health. He loved to chat about sport, music and other topics and his secretary would often chastise him about wasting time and keeping patients waiting.

Truth is patients didn’t mind waiting because they enjoyed their visit so much. David was a big personality full of warmth, kindness and generosity which endeared him to patients, colleagues and friends alike. He was always hugely entertaining company but did not suffer fools nor the pomposity of some colleagues and wasn’t shy about letting them know how he felt.

David’s sporting passion was golf, which he learned in Ballybunion as a youth and which he later described as “that great equaliser” providing a vital diversion from the weighty matters of interventional cardiology. He played to a handicap of 4 or 5 up to the time of his illness and following an arduous treatment regimen got back to a handicap of 12.

He had a prodigious knowledge of the history of the game and of the lives of golfing legends. A game of golf with David was primarily great fun and he was always happy to share his advice and encouragement to those less talented than himself. He occasionally got irritated with his own game and on one notable occasion threw his three-wood into a water hazard after hitting a bad shot. When asked had he seen the ball, his playing partner quipped that he didn’t see the ball but he had a good line on the three-wood. The entertainment continued in the clubhouse with his hilarious accounts of golfing and other escapades.

David’s love for the game was complete when his son, Hugh, an elite amateur golfer won the Irish Close Championship in Rosapenna, Co Donegal in October 2020. Hugh’s success was the culmination of dedication, hard work and David’s guiding hand. In 2017 and again in 2020 Hugh and David won the international Father and Son Tournament staged annually at Waterville Golf Club. In particular, as well as his love of playing golf with his son, David and Oonagh also had the pleasure of seeing their daughter Ally graduate as a medical doctor in June 2020. Ally shared her father’s passion for Munster rugby and when possible, travelled with him to support the team.

Born in 1961, David and his two siblings grew up on the family farm in Askeaton. He recalled that from an early age he enjoyed working the land with his father in all kinds of weather where he learned to take responsibility for his actions, experienced humility and developed what he considered to be “underrated facets of medical practice” namely, humanity and common sense. His mother always inspired him and his siblings and took great interest in their respective careers. Following school he went to University College Dublin from where graduated in 1984.

David trained in general medicine until 1988 after which he specialised in cardiology for three years in St James’s Hospital Dublin. In 1991, when most of his peers were travelling to Britain or the US for overseas experience, David took up a two-year fellowship in cardiology in Erasmus University Hospital in Rotterdam. He was awarded his PhD in 1995 and joined the staff of Erasmus Hospital as clinical director of interventional cardiology.

In 2002, he returned to Ireland and quickly brought new life to the Beaumont cardiology department, attracting many trainees and younger colleagues. With his big personality and infectious enthusiasm he also brought new energy and vitality to the clinical community of Beaumont and in particular to the Beaumont golf tour.

His death in May during the Covid lockdown resulted in only very small numbers of close family attending his funeral. Many friends, colleagues and hospital staff as well as many former patients, in normal times, would have been present.

The respect and admiration in which he was held was evident by the huge turnout of so many staff of the hospital as the cortege drove through the campus of Beaumont following the funeral ceremony. His family were hugely appreciative of this gesture.

David will be greatly missed by all who were privileged to know him and none more so than his beloved wife and best friend, Oonagh, who cared for him so lovingly and patiently during his final months. His children, Ally and Hugh, have lost a loving father, mentor, supporter and their greatest fan. David is also survived by his sister Emily and brother Justin. Prof Paddy Broe