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McGrath Heart Operation Emphasises Need for Screening

Filed under: News/Events - Posted on Sunday, March 19th, 2006 @ 4:02 pm

Martin McGrath, the Fermanagh All-Star, will undergo laser heart surgery at Dublin’s Mater Hospital tomorrow for the second time in less than two months, to correct a problem that at one time was thought to be bronchitis-related.
The 24-year-old underwent surgery in February to burn excess tissue from around his heart, but was warned that a second minor operation might be needed. After bouts of dizziness and pain to the back of his neck, the decision to operate again was made. While McGrath hoes tomorrow’s treatment will allow him to resume his Gaelic football career soon, his plight should reinforce the strong calls being made by medics to have all elite athletes in this country, including GAA players, screened at the start of every season.
The 2004 All Star has suffered from palpitations and a racing heart beat for the past few years, but has no fears of resuming his career which has been decimated by injuries and this heart complaint since he picked up his award.
He first learned of the extent of the problem when a doctor sent him for a check-up last year. Initially, scans didn’t pick up the problem, but the abnormality was diagnosed when a monitor was attached to his heart during a game and showed highly unusual heart rates at half-time.
The Ederney clubman is very positive about the outcome of tomorrow’s operation and feels he could be back training within a couple of weeks.
“I suppose I’ll be nervous when I’m lying on a bed in the Mater Hospital before the operation and wondering what’s ahead of me,” he admitted. “The operation will burn away more tissue from around the heart and hopefully it will solve the problem. I have suffered from palpitations in the past, especially when I train, my heart starts to race. …
“There is nothing I can do. I just have to take comfort in the fact that with modern technology, the operation is simple enough and thankfully it’s nothing similar to what other GAA players have experienced in the recent past. I heard what happened to the Kilkenny hurler, Conor Phelan, and we all know of the other cases in the past few years but mine is totally different. I could be back quicker than if I had a hamstring,” he said. “I would definitely aim to return for the Championship, but your health is your wealth, that’s the most important thing.”
The plight of top sportspeople suffering cardiac complaints came to light in Ireland when Tyrone football star Cormac McAnallen passed away in March 2004 with a viral infection of the heart. Soon after, Ulster and Irish under-age rugby star John McCall died following heart failure in an U19 World Cup match against New Zealand. Kilkenny hurling duo Noel Hickey and Conor Phelan both experienced heart problems last year.
Full-back Hickey was extremely lucky after a virus attached itself to the muscle around the wall of his heart and he was forced out of hurling for a year and he was forced out of hurling for a year and has not figured in the 2006 League yet.
Promising forward Phelan was less fortunate and has been forced to give up the game at intercounty level after doctors told him he also had a defective valve around his heart, following a screening of the Kilkenny squad. He has since been told he can resume his club career.

By Damian Lawlor
(Sunday Independent, 19 March 2006)

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