Flying high in the Connacht after a serious heart diagnosis

If there is a man in the west of Ireland who has not the slightest fear of flying, it is Marc Stanley. On the contrary, a passion for light aircraft may have saved his life.

“That, and the support of my wife and family,” Stanley said of his experience over the past few years.

The 43-year-old, who lives in Co Roscommon, laughs a little when he thinks of how he was known as “the man who fixed trains that stopped”. In his spare time flying, angling and sailing were his occupations.

“You become what you do, and my work as a convenience store at Iarnród Éireann defined me,” he says. “Everything changed when I went to Cork early one morning to watch a train in September 2011, and I had to stop in Athlone, Co. Westmeath because the pain in my side was so bad.”

He remembers it as a searing pain that “came out of nowhere.” When he stopped at the Limerick depot, a foreman noticed his appearance. He finally returned from Cork that evening and parked his van in the back of his house. The van did not move until a replacement was found at work.

At 36, he was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy which eventually leads to heart failure.

“No one has 100% heart efficiency, and a young child can have 85%,” he explains. “Most people have an efficiency of 60 to 65%, and more than 55% is accepted as normal. “

“If the efficiency is between 40 and 50 percent, that’s worrying, and if you’re below 20 percent, you need a new heart,” he says. “When they took me to Sligo Hospital, my wife Geraldine was told my heart efficiency was 11% and there was nothing they could do.”

Cardiac efficiency

Geraldine Kavanagh was determined to get a second opinion and got an appointment two weeks later at Mater Private Hospital in Dublin. There, her husband was put on medication and then fitted with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD).

“My heart efficiency went up to 18% in a few months, but it took a very, very long time,” he says. “I was put on a low sodium diet and had to exercise and quit alcohol,” he says. “Giving up drinking has been a bit of a relief as there is too much pressure on people to drink in this country.

“I had no family history of it, but looking back, I remembered a really bad flu in December 2008, which had stunned me for about six weeks,” he says. “I think the problems started then, and my heart efficiency was so low that my heart started to blood clots.”

His employer’s health and safety policy limited what he could do when equipped with an ICD. “Basically, I couldn’t get close to a train track, so I was encouraged to make a voluntary departure,” he says.

Iarnród Éireann had a counseling program he signed up to that he was thrilled with, he says. He had become depressed and obsessed with the fear of death. He remembers feeling both numb and also feeling that life was “surreal”.

At the time, he and Geraldine had one child, but they were encouraged to have a second, and did – his son and daughter are nine and four years old, respectively. His condition meant he got tired easily and realized it was an added challenge for his wife when they had a young family.

“I was walking a lot to increase my heart strength, but I would be exhausted,” he says. “I used to love playing music, but concerts tend to be in pubs and don’t start until late, so that put an end to that. “

When we see warning signs on the road, we pay attention. . . but when it’s our own body sometimes we can ignore the signs

He had motorcycles that he sold, but he also had an airplane in his garage. “I couldn’t bring myself to sell this, and the thought of not stealing was unbearable,” he says. So he moved to get his license and now flies a microlight from Frenchpark in Co Roscommon.

“I perfected myself and became an airworthiness inspector, and I also teach ground theory,” he says. For the past four years he has been taking an online course in marine surveys from the Institute of Marine Surveyors in Portsmouth, England.

Support meetings

“I had to adapt my lifestyle and change careers, and I’ve never met someone my age who had this disease,” he says. He has attended support group meetings hosted by the Irish Heart Foundation and says his advice to anyone newly diagnosed with heart failure is to recognize that “you are still the same person and you can explain it to people. of your life “.

Maintaining a positive attitude is easier said than done, but it helps a lot, he says, because heart disease is both a mental and a physical illness.

An estimated 90,000 people are living with heart disease in Ireland, according to statistics from the Health Service Executive (HSE), and the Irish Heart Foundation launched a new campaign on March 6 to raise awareness.

The Watch out for the signs campaign says swollen ankles, fatigue and shortness of breath are “warning signs that should never be ignored.”

Irish Heart Foundation Medical Director Dr Angie Brown notes that “when we see warning signs on the road, we pay attention. . . but, when it is our own body, sometimes we can ignore the signs ”.

“Heart failure can often go unnoticed because its symptoms appear gradually. It’s easy to attribute fatigue to a busy lifestyle and shortness of breath to lack of fitness, ”she says. “These are signs we need to watch out for.

The Irish Heart Foundation will hold two public information meetings – in Dublin on April 12 and in Waterford on April 19e – for people concerned about heart failure. To register for meetings, please contact the Irish Heart Foundation on 01 668 5001 or visit

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