Heart failure in my 30s was my wake-up call says Corkman

When Youghal man Barry O’Regan, aged 35, suffered a heart problem, his friends and community went into overdrive to support him, reveals CHRIS DUNNE
Heart failure in my 30s was my wake-up call says Corkman

STANDING TOGETHER: Barry O’Regan, front in red t-shirt, with fellow supporters of the Irish Heart Foundation.

LIKE a band of brothers, the men of the land know how to stick together when something happens to one of their own.

“When you have one, you have them all!” says Barry O’Regan, 35, from Lackaroe, Youghal.

His friends and community rallied round to support him when he suffered a health setback, and also aimed to raise money for charity.

“Barry is a great pal and a great neighbour,” says Brian Cronin, from Killeagh, who rallied the troops one recent Sunday when farmers, hauliers, lorry drivers, vintage clubs, agricultural contractors, farm machinery dealers, farmers and friends turned out for their man.

“We gathered at Dave McDonnnell’s farm in Midleton,” says Brian.

 “Then we drove on to Dairygold Mogeely then on to Mike Browne’s farm in Killeagh. There was a mighty turn-out for Barry — we shared the photos at each venue on the just-giving page in aid of the Irish Heart Foundation. Our target was to raise €3,000.”

The aim of the convoy was also to raise awareness about looking after our health, watching stress levels, keeping a check on our blood pressure and cholesterol, taking regular exercise and not smoking.

Anne Riordan, of the Irish Heart Foundation, speaking at the first cheque presentation of the proceeds from the 2017 Mount Uniake Tractor Run, reminded people: “We’re great to get the car or tractor serviced; we check the pressure on our tyres, change the oil... if only we looked after ourselves as well.”

For the last three years, Barry O’Regan, 36, and a dedicated team of tractor enthusiasts, have organised the Mount Uniake Tractor Run in East Cork in aid of the Irish heart Foundation and in memory of their good friends Larry Long and Finbar Hurley, both of whom sadly lost their lives to heart disease.

To date, the Mount Uniake Tractor Run has raised a colossal €50,000 for the Irish Heart Foundation.

Then the disease struck one of their own once more.

Little did Barry, a key member of Mogeely Vintage Club, know, when he worked so hard to raise so much for those affected by heart disease, that he would one day become a heart patient himself.

“I wasn’t feeling great for a couple of years to be honest,” says Barry, who is dad to Jack, 10. 

“I was working hard between helping out on the farm, in the family pub as well as working full-time with Dairygold.”

He was burning the candle at both ends.

“I tended to enjoy drinking and smoking, probably a bit too much!” says Barry, who urges men to heed health warning signs.

“Looking back, I was feeling pain all over my body and I should have paid more attention to it.”

Mattews came to a head in September, 2019, when Barry felt so breathless and unwell that he went to see his GP, who told him that he needed to get to hospital immediately.

“I didn’t go to the hospital there and then,” says Barry.

 “I wanted to get my get my van parked up at home first. I was waiting for my father to collect me and I collapsed.”

He won’t forget that day.

It was Friday, September 13.

His mother called the ambulance.

“I vaguely remember being in the ambulance,” says Barry.

He was aware something was badly wrong.

“The blue lights were flashing and I asked the medic in the ambulance why they were flashing. She said it was to get through the traffic.”

But it was because his life was in danger.

Barry was rushed to the emergency department in the Mercy Gospital as a result of heart failure.

“There was a lot of commotion around me,” he says. “And a lot of talking going on between the doctors.

“I knew things were serious when I was transferred to the coronary care unit at CUH. In the emergency room, my heart was only functioning 15%.”

Barry, who was diagnosed with a leaking mitral valve when he was still in school, underwent major heart surgery. The mitral valve is a small flap in the heart that stops blood flowing the wrong way. Problems with it can affect how the blood flows around the body.

“I was in the cardiac care unit for a while after the operation” says Barry.

Was he frightened at any stage?

“Yes, when I was in the emergency room first. And I know it was put to my parents that I wouldn’t see 40 if my health issues weren’t addressed.”

But he was in good hands.

“I stayed in hospital 28 days and the staff there were really caring and attentive.”

They knew what Barry was missing out, on being away from familiar territory.

“One of the staff brought me in the Farmer’s Journal!” he says laughing.

Family and friends rallied around.

“My parents were a great support to me,” says Barry. “Everyone was sound.”

His cardiologist, Professor Carl Vaughan, was sound too. “He is a great man,” says Barry. “The operation was complicated. Professor Vaughan told me not to worry.

“The Cardiac Rehabilitation Programme at CUH is a great service, helping recovery and promoting a healthy lifestyle. I am so grateful for the excellent care I received and to be in a position to raise more funds for the Irish Heart Foundation this year.”

What helpful tips can he pass on?

“Live your life in a balanced way,” says Barry. 

“Eat well and don’t over-indulge. If you have a health issue, go to your GP and get looked after. Don’t be a hero.”

Barry, having helped raise €50,000 for the Irish Heart Foundation, is a local hero in his community, like all his buddies who ‘drove on’, pulling out the all the stops for a worthy cause in memory of two sadly missed local men.

“We all knew and loved Finbar and Larry,” says Barry of the late Finbar Hurley and Larry Long.

Mount Uniake is a small village with a big heart where people look out for each other. They answer the call when the going gets rough.

“Family, friends, the whole community in east Cork support each other,” says Barry.

He found that out for himself.

“Brian Cronin, who organised the fundraiser for the Irish Heart Foundation, getting everyone together, is a great neighbour and a great friend of mine, 110%,” says Barry.

“We are so fortunate to have excellent hospitals in Cork, and to live in a caring community with great support from family and friends. The Irish Heart Foundation fundraiser is a way to raise awareness about looking after our health.”

Barry got a wake-up call.

“And I have to respect that call,” says Barry. “I have to answer that call. I have one chance. No second chance. I made it. So many others don’t.”

He vowed to get to a better place.

“I remember waking up in intensive care,” says Barry. “I said to myself, I had to get out of there. Something rang a bell that you have to look after yourself. I want to raise awareness to look after yourself before it’s too late.”

He was happy to see his loved ones.

“My parents came in to the room and I gave them the thumbs up. I think they got a shock when they saw all the pipes and tubes!”

Barry is nicotine free now and has the freedom to indulge in one of his favourite pastimes.

“I bought a few animals to rear them,” says Barry. “It is great therapy and great motivation to get up and out every day.”

Life is good then?

“Life is good,” says Barry. “I get a bit of fatigue very now and again but I pace myself.”

The 36-year-old is full of ambition to drive on. “My goal is to get back to work in Dairygold. My heart is in much better shape now, functioning at 45%-55% capacity of what it should be.”

Now he’s sucking diesel!

To donate: justgiving.com/fundraising/barryoregan

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