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03rd Nov 2023

“I flatlined three times” – Former Tyrone star Mickey Coleman on surviving ‘widow maker’ heart attack

Lee Costello

Mickey Coleman

“There wasn’t much of a chance in those early stages.”

A former Tyrone All-Ireland winner and well-known local singer has released a book this week, but the heart of the memoir isn’t really on music or sport; it’s literally about his own heart.

Mickey Coleman has had many life-changing experiences, including winning two Sam Maguires with the Tyrone GAA team in 2003 and 2005, and emigrating to New York later in life.

However, his most transformative time came in 2021, when he suffered a heart attack known as ‘The Widow-Maker’, which only affords a 6% survival rate.

‘Pulse: A Memoir on Life, Near Death, and a New Life’ tells the Ardboe native’s story of his near-death incident that has changed him forever.

By putting pen to paper, he now hopes to help others who are going through something similar.

On Monday, 21st March 2021, shortly after returning to his New York home from work, Mickey – then aged 41 –  set off for a run.

A matter of seconds after recording his personal best time for that 5k, he suffered the widow-maker heart attack.

“I was training and doing a lot of CrossFit at the time. I came back to the house [after my run] and my wife made me a sandwich and she went to bed,” he explained.

“I ate the sandwich and then bang – it just hit me. I had no symptoms, I didn’t feel unwell, like a bolt out of the blue, it just hit me. I knew within a short space of time that I needed help. I went upstairs to my wife and she called 911.

“I was back down the stairs and in the living room, and I remember two Orangetown police officers coming in. I remember asking them for help and then I just dropped dead on the floor. The ambulance was just pulling into the driveway of the house at that time, so they had me on the defibrillator pretty quick.

“I flatlined three times then and the last time I flatlined in the ambulance, they couldn’t get me back. They got me to the hospital and I was put on a ventilator, and so on and so forth.

“That’s the short version of it. After that, I woke up a few days later and the real fight began; the recovery. It’s not something I’d want to be doing again, that’s for sure.”

Flatlining is the term used to describe when a person’s heart is no longer pumping. Essentially, Mickey had died, and his family was told that he wouldn’t survive.

He continued: “When my wife went to the hospital, they told her that I had been unconscious for a long time and that it didn’t look good, so to prepare for the worst.

Mickey Coleman

“There wasn’t much of a chance in those early stages, but somehow I made it, thank God. The recovery wasn’t pretty. I was very sick. I had double pneumonia, low liver function, and my kidney function was gone.

“Physically, it was tough. I had to learn how to walk, and then run, all over again. I always knew that coming from a sporting background, I could get back there, if my body allowed me to.

“There was obviously damage done to my heart, but they weren’t sure exactly what percentage of damage had been done.”

The father-of-two explained that he was left with a very low ejection fraction, which is measured as a percentage of the total amount of blood in your heart that is pumped out with each heartbeat.

Mickey Coleman on the psychological battle he faced after serving heart attack with only 6% survival rate.

Mickey Coleman

But, the physical damage was nothing compared to the psychological battle he would go on to face.

“It’s the heart’s ability to pump oxygenated blood around the body, so there was a big fight in terms of recovery. I say this in the book – the real battle in recovery was the mental side of it. There were a lot of dark days trying to understand what happened to me.

“I had anxiety over whether it would happen again, and the anxiety of trying to get my heart rate up again. I had done cardiac rehab for almost four months. It was tough trying to get my head around it. The first three months I was probably suffering depression.

“I had never suffered with my heart before, but I’d never had any depression before either. I had never had anxiety. All of a sudden, all these things were in my head, and there were a lot of them.

“I remember when my wife went to the shop for the first time after it and left me alone in the house with the two kids. It was like panic mode. ‘What if something happens again now with the children in the house?’

“When I went to the bathroom, I wouldn’t lock the door. It wasn’t even big things, but very small things that would be going on in my head.

“That’s still an ongoing process, it doesn’t go away. For me now, it’s about learning to deal with that.”

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