Christmas morning initially played out as it normally did for Benny Gallagher. After sitting down to breakfast with his wife, Mary, the Dromore man set off for Mass at St Davog’s Church.
But the day took an unexpected turn when Benny experienced chest pain, and started to feel unwell as he approached the church building.
It was a sensation all too familiar for Benny, because, eight years prior, he suffered a heart attack.
Benny continued walking until he got inside the chapel, where he suddenly collapsed. Luckily, a vigilant paramedic noticed Benny’s distress, and acted swiftly, aided by the immediate response of doctors and nurses among the parishioners.
With the help of a defibrillator from the chapel’s sacristy, Benny’s life was saved not once, but twice, as his heart stopped and restarted.
The timely intervention and collective efforts of the medical personnel and community members ensured his survival against the odds.
February is ‘Heart Month’, and Benny and his family have agreed to speak to the UH about the incident to raise awareness of the importance of defibrillators and first aid training.
“I was already running late for Mass, and when I got to the chapel car park I couldn’t find a space,” Benny recalled. “I wasn’t running toward the chapel doors, but I was walking quite hard.
“As I got closer to the door, I started to feel a slight pain in my chest. I continued into the chapel, but I couldn’t see any seats due to the crowd of people. I moved up the side but I started finding my legs getting weak to the point where I wasn’t fit to stand, so I had to lean on a seat.”
Benny’s next memory is waking up in an ambulance outside the chapel.
His wife, Mary outlines the drama that ensued beforehand, as Benny’s life hung in the balance, while fellow parishioners rushed to his aid.
“They had just started the readings when it happened. By chance, Benny was stood beside a paramedic who had watched him come in, and recognised that he was a bad colour.
“He kept an eye on him and was able to catch him when he fell.”
In a stroke of divine providence, doctors, including a heart specialist, and nurses quickly materialised from the congregation.
“It really was a blessing that they all were there,” Mary continued.
“There seemed to have been more medical staff in St Davog’s Church that day than in the hospital,” she added, half-jokingly.
“Benny had two cardiac arrests, so his heart stopped twice, one after the other, and thankfully the sacristy happened to have a defibrillator so that was used twice.”
As she opened Christmas presents with her kids, Benny’s daughter, Tracie, received the alarming call and rushed to the chapel, experiencing the shock and anxiety of the situation first-hand.
“It was a horrible phone call to take,” remarked Tracie. “There was complete silence in the chapel when I walked in – it was just a real shock to everybody.”
Benny awoke in the ambulance being watched over by paramedics.
“I didn’t know where I was or what had happened me,” he said. “I couldn’t move from the pain and I stayed that way for about two days afterwards. At the hospital, the doctors told me that only one in ten people survive something this – and only that I’m so strong, I wouldn’t be here.”
It was a sobering experience for the Dromore man, but thankfully Benny has been recovering well since.
“I survived it, I lived to tell the tale,” he stated.
For the Gallagher family, the events of that Christmas morning serve as a poignant reminder of the generosity of the human spirit, and the importance of life-saving equipment and skills within local communities.
“It really has prompted me to consider learning first aid and how to use a defibrillator,” said Benny’s daughter, Tracie. “It’s just so important.”
And she hopes that those reading will also be inspired to seek training and knowledge on first aid and defibrillators, taking inspiration from her father’s story.
“First aid is a great skill to have. I have always said it should be taught in schools,” continued Benny’s wife, Mary. “Anyone could be faced with something like this – a wake up call – and people need to have a basic knowledge of what to do to save someone’s life, when these situations do arise,” she concluded.
For more information on Heart Month, and how you can learn CPR, visit the British Heart Foundation’s website: bhf.org.uk.
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