When factory operative Michael Bowe consulted his GP about the flu-like symptoms he just couldn’t seem to shake, he was a bit surprised to be sent to hospital.
And utterly shocked, when, within two days, he was informed that he needed a heart transplant. Michael, then just 24, was told that he had cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart becomes enlarged, thick or rigid.
That was in September 2000, and the news sent shock waves across his family.
“It came out of the blue. I don’t know if we really took it in that Michael needed a heart transplant. It was not until he was undergoing tests in Dublin that the penny really dropped for us,” recalls his brother Damien.
Michael had his much-needed heart transplant in February 2001, but his body rejected his heart, and he died suddenly three years later. It was a terrible shock to a family which had already experienced tragedy in 1998, when Michael’s younger sister was killed in a car crash. Michael’s family were later tested for heart problems by the Mater Hospital’s Family Heart Screening Clinic.
The clinic checks families of those who have been affected by or who have lost loved ones to cardiac conditions, including Sudden Adult/Arrhythmic Death Syndrome (SADS). Almost 9,000 people have been screened for often hidden and potentially fatal diseases since the clinic opened in 2007 – and this figure includes 60 children as young as eight years of age, who have been screened in the last year at the clinic, which this year celebrates its 10th anniversary.
Breda Bowe, Michael’s mother, now aged 64, was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy following screening at the clinic, and had a defibrillator fitted.
Michael’s younger brother Fintan, now aged 23, was also found to have the condition and is now on medication for it. Damien and his father Pat, however, were given the all-clear, as were Damien’s three young sons, Iarlaith aged two, Ruairi five, and six-year-old Patrick, who were screened at the clinic in recent months.
Breda also underwent genetic testing which revealed that she is the gene carrier of the deficiency that leads to cardiomyopathy.
“For us, the screening at the clinic was critical,” recalls Damien, from Timahoe, Co Laois, who points out that Fintan is an enthusiastic hurler.
“Without the screening I believe he could have died suddenly of Sudden Adult Death Syndrome because he was completely unaware that he had the condition until he was screened. He’s now on medication and attends the clinic for screening every six months.
“My mother had a defibrillator fitted as a result of the screening.
“I believe the screening saved the lives of my mother and brother,” says Damien, who adds that knowing their three children have been screened is a massive reassurance to himself and his wife Anne-Marie, a nurse.
The Bowes are fully supportive of this year’s Heart Appeal to raise €95,000 for the purchase of a new ECHO machine for the clinic. This technology will provide much clearer images of the heart and lead to better diagnoses of often hidden cardiac problems into the future. The appeal also funds pioneering research into the causes and treatment of the disease, and with one person under the age of 35 passing away from an inherited cardiac condition every week in Ireland, such state-of-the-art screening technology and ongoing, in-depth research is badly needed.
This is an abridged version of an article which appeared in the Irish Independent on 21 February 2017. Image of heart testing above is an example of the service for patients and not connected to the Bowe family.
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