Caragh McGowan and her mother Alice
A 19-year-old Donegal woman had a miraculous escape after suffering heart failure, has called on more people to learn CPR.
Caragh McGowan from Arranmore was speaking after a retired nurse performed CPR on her when her heart stopped as was she was driving off from her home recently.
Caragh, who has a potentially fatal heart condition, suffered a cardiac arrest. She was saved by the intervention of Cathy O’Neill, a retired nurse from Glasgow who was visiting the island, and Dr Kevin Quinn who used a defibrillator which helped save her life.
Caragh has subsequently been diagnosed with a rare heart condition which can cause sudden adult death.
The student at Gairmscoil Mhic Diarmada on the island was airlifted to Letterkenny University Hospital after the coast guard helicopter landed in a field opposite her home.
Neighbours and other islanders had formed a human circle in the field to help guide the helicopter to land.
Caragh was at Letterkenny University Hospital within 50 minutes of the alarm being raised.
She remained in an induced coma for two days.
A test carried out on Caragh revealed Brugada syndrome which is hereditary.
It is believed to be the first case of the rare syndrome to be treated at the hospital.
Caragh was at home when she suffered the heart attack on September 14. She was driving away from her home when she passed out.
The car reversed into a wall and the noise alerted her brother Killian.
Neighbours were alerted and Killian carried Caragh from the car.
“Her face had turned blue,” her mother Alice, who was on holiday in London at the time, said.
Cathy O’Neill, who was visiting Arramore with her husband Jim Ward, was able to perform CPR until Dr Quinn arrived.
The helicopter was directed to the house by tracking the mobile phone that had called the emergency services.
In the following days, Dr Santhosh David detected the presence of Brugada Syndrome and Caragh has had an internal defibrillator fitted.
Her six siblings now also have to be tested for the syndrome.
She attended her brother’s wedding just days after getting out of hospital and had to attend the hospital on the day of the wedding to have stitches removed.
“I was so lucky,” Caragh said.
“If you have this within a hospital there is only an 8 per cent chance of survival and 6 per cent chance of it outside.
“I feel good now, I’m living my life. I relieved that I am alive really.”
She said she wants to encourage people to do CPR and highlight the need for it.
“I’m living proof that it works. I would not have actually thought about CPR until it actually saved my life.
“It is just so hard to understand that I nearly died and so hard to believe that I am still here.”
Alice describes Caragh as her “walking miracle”.
She said there was a chain of events that helped save Caragh’s life.
“It’s just unbelievable. If there was any part of that chain broken the reality is she wouldn’t be here.
“There were just so many factors - things just fell into place. When she was in ICU it was terrifying.”
Alice and Caragh thanked Dr David, Dr Chris Steele, and all the staff in ICU and CCU for all their help.
“To have such a positive outcome is just unbelievable. We are still in shock at it all - the enormity of what has happened,” Alice said.
As a result of Caragh’s experience a meeting is being held on the island to set up a first responder’s group.
A teacher from the island has already attended a three-day first responders course since Caragh’s ordeal.
“A lot of parents have been talking about it since what happened to Caragh. The whole island got an awful fright,” Alice said.