Surfer died after tearing neck artery


A BEGINNER surfer died of a stroke five days after tearing one of the main arteries in his neck while surfing off the northwest coast, an inquest has heard.

James Mackey (33), of Ballygawley, Co Sligo, was taken by ambulance to Sligo General Hospital on August 19th, 2007, after he collapsed at a friend’s house. He was transferred to Beaumont Hospital in Dublin later that day, where he died three days later.

An inquest into his death at Dublin City Coroner’s Court yesterday heard that Mr Mackey, who was fit and healthy, had been surfing with a friend, Vanessa Salvador, in Bundoran, Co Donegal, on August 16th and 17th and began complaining of pain and stiffness in his neck on the second day.

Despite the pain, Mr Mackey, who had never surfed before, spent about four hours on the water that day. Neck pain is common when surfing, Ms Salvador told the inquest.

Mr Mackey, who was originally from Johnstown, Co Kilkenny, and who worked as a painter and landscape gardener, continued to complain of a sore neck and dizziness the following day and later that evening attended a GP in Collooney, Co Sligo, who prescribed Serc tablets.

He then returned to the home of friends where he went to bed. The inquest heard that Mr Mackey experienced a dramatic deterioration in his condition overnight, and that while he was 100 per cent alert at the doctor’s the previous evening, by the time he arrived at Sligo General Hospital at 11am the following day, he was deeply unresponsive and had the lowest level of consciousness compatible with life.

A postmortem revealed that Mr Mackey died of a stroke due to a traumatic dissection of the left vertebral artery (one of the arteries carrying blood to the brain) in his neck. The dissection or tear occurred while Mr Mackey was surfing and was potentially exacerbated by a minor crash in which Mr Mackey was involved while returning from Bundoran on the night of August 17th, when he hit a sign at Gubacreeney, Co Leitrim.

Of critical importance was a finding at postmortem that Mr Mackey had an abnormality of the circulatory and vascular system, namely an extreme narrowing of a number of the other blood vessels providing blood to the brain (the right posterior cerebral artery, the left posterior communicating artery and the right vertebral artery).

A consultant neuropathologist at Beaumont Hospital, Prof Michael Farrell, said it was an, “absolutely exceptional case. It’s impossible to ignore the surfing. That was the start of the process when the small tear occurred in the artery,” said Prof Farrell, who said dissections of the vertebral arteries are commonly seen in people who have been hit from behind in a road traffic crash, but are also seen when people drink shots, practice archery and in children using trampolines.

He didn’t believe there was a point where Mr Mackey could have been saved. “Because he didn’t have the collateral circulation he went from good to dead in a short period of time,” he said.

The coroner, Dr Brian Farrell, called for the case to be added to the medical literature. “It’s important the medical profession become aware of what happened to Jimmy,” he said.

The jury returned a verdict of death by misadventure.