HSSCU Community Awareness
At HSSCU, we are passionate about helping our members and our community. While we provide the best financial services to members, we’re aware that there is a lot more happening in their lives. With that in mind, it is important to us to spread knowledge and awareness of important aspects of your lives. With this in mind, we are today speaking with the wonderful Shane O’Flynn. Below, Shane talks us through one of the most difficult times of his life and the importance of spreading awareness of sudden cardiac arrests, and how we can all help to battle these going forward.
Shane O’Flynn’s Story
My name is Shane O’Flynn and I’m an Environmental Health Officer working for the HSE in Cork for the past 20 years. My life, and the life of my family, was turned upside down on the 26th of July 2015 when my brother Kevin suffered a cardiac arrest on a football pitch. Only a few weeks ago, Christen Eriksen the Danish superstar, got up off the grass again after suffering the same event. Unfortunately, my 34-year-old brother Kevin was not so lucky.
Kevin was 34, fit, healthy, and a brilliant soccer player. We normally played 5-a-side every Monday night together but for some reason on this particular July summer’s evening I didn’t play that game and Kevin went and played with a different group. Halfway through the game, Kevin fell to the ground. Unfortunately, the lads playing with him that night did not know what was happening and it was about 10 minutes before the nearby swimming pool lifeguards arrived to help. Their defibrillator was called into action but tragically, 10 days later, Kevin passed away in the CUH.
According to the Irish Heart Foundation, thousands of people die every year of a sudden cardiac arrest from inherited heart conditions. Many are young people that just didn’t know they had a heart condition. Kevin had been living his life up to that fatal night unaware he had a condition called Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. This is where there is a thickening of the heart muscle wall over time leading to difficulty for the heart to pump blood and oxygen. It was this heart condition that led to Kevin having a fatal Cardiac arrest.
A distinction here needs to be made from a heart attack. A heart attack is when blood flow to the heart is blocked, a sudden cardiac arrest is when the heart malfunctions and suddenly stops beating unexpectedly. With a Heart attack, the person usually has a pulse, is breathing, and can respond to questions. With a Cardiac arrest, the person has no pulse, is not breathing, and is unresponsive.
Ever since we lost Kevin, my family and I have been campaigning for better awareness of heart conditions in young people and also in training people on what to do should a person get a cardiac arrest in the community. We set up the Kevin O’Flynn fundraising group in 2016 and in that time we have purchased 5 Defibrillators for different sports groups and bodies in the Cork area and we have also trained approximately 40 people in CPR:
A proud day for the family was when we fundraised for the purchase and installation of the very first defibrillator for our hometown of Fermoy, Co. Cork.
When I look back now the thing the really strikes me is that very few people in the community know what to do when a cardiac arrest happens. In simple terms, Call 999 or 112, push hard and fast in the centre of the chest (chest compressions), and use a defibrillator if there’s one nearby. Never think that you’re not qualified as doing something is better than doing nothing. If someone more qualified than you wants to take over then let them do it.
The vital thing to do immediately after calling the emergency services is chest compressions (otherwise known as CPR) on the patient. Chest compressions keep the oxygen circulating to the brain and basically keeps the patient alive. If and when a defibrillator arrives the good thing is the defibrillator talks you through how to use it. The defibrillator is used to basically jump-start the heart back into action. However, the more people that get trained in CPR and defibrillator use the more likelihood of a person being saved. The more people that are actually aware that a cardiac event is happening in front of them the more people will be saved.
As time has passed we have stepped back from the Kevin O’Flynn fundraising group and we now help support a group called Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) who are based in Tallaght in Dublin.
The 3 objectives of CRY are:
- To raise awareness of the condition known as Sudden Cardiac Death or Sudden Adult Death Syndrome
- To provide free heart screening for families and individuals
- To provide free counseling services and support for families
I would urge readers that if you become aware of the following symptoms in yourself or someone close to you please get screened for heart conditions. It is better to be safe than sorry. There was no history of heart conditions in my family and maybe that’s one reason why Kevin never got himself checked out.
Symptoms of possible heart conditions include one, some, or all of the following:
- Difficulty breathing, especially during exercise
- Heart palpitations or fluttering feeling
- Unexplained fainting especially during exercise
- Chest pains
- Loss of consciousness
Kevin was a very fit young man but unfortunately, he put his heart palpitations down to drinking too much coffee. Maybe if there was more awareness in 2015 of inherited heart conditions or if he had lived to see the Christen Erisksen incident he might have got himself checked out and he could still be here with us today.
This may sound strange but in many ways, I’m glad it happened to Eriksen as it really has put a greater spotlight on undetected heart conditions, and I’m fairly sure many families have now been saved a huge loss.
I would strongly recommend readers to get themselves trained in Community First Responding and in particular how to do chest compressions and use a defibrillator. The Irish Heart Foundation or your local Community First Responders team will help you to find a course. It’s an essential life skill that might one day save your life or the life of someone you know.
HSE- Environmental Health Service
*Please note that Health Services Staffs Credit Union is not an expert on heart conditions or cardiac arrests and that all the above advice is from Shane O’Flynn, who is trained and has experience in the field.
Are you interested in helping your community?
Should you feel that you have expertise that would help HSSCU members, please email your idea/proposal to [email protected].