An extreme sports enthusiast has died after suffering sudden cardiac arrest caused by an undetected congenital heart condition while kitesurfing in Dublin Bay last year, an inquest has heard.
The discovery led to a call from the family of the deceased, Ger Fennelly, for all participants in extreme sports to get tested for a disease which a medical expert says could affect up to 25% of the population and be exacerbated by “adrenaline”. “motivated” activities.
An inquest by Dublin District Coroner’s Court on Wednesday heard that Mr Fennelly, a father-of-one from Collinswood, Collins Avenue, Beaumont, was pulled from the water by fellow kitesurfers after he found himself in difficult conditions off Dollymount Strand on the morning of October 31. , 2020.
Witnesses described how the victim showed no signs of life after saving him from the sea and bringing him back to shore.
However, efforts by his friends, gardaí, members of the Irish Coastguard and the Dublin Fire Brigade for over an hour to resuscitate him proved unsuccessful.
Another kitesurfer, Simon Lewis, said he had surfed earlier in the morning but was pulled out of the water due to forecasts of worsening weather conditions.
Mr Lewis told the hearing he ran to Mr Fennelly’s aid after seeing his friend ‘sent flying’ by ‘a massive gust’ which hit Dublin Bay. He estimated that the victim was around 100-150 meters from shore when he was blown into the air by the sudden gust of wind.
Mr Lewis said it was one of the strongest gusts he had ever experienced at Dollymount Strand, but at the same time kitesurfers were taking advantage of conditions such as “high winds are exciting”. The pathologist who carried out an autopsy on Mr Fennelly’s body, Kathleen Han Suyin, said he suffered from a birth defect known as a ‘myocardial bridge’ where one of the coronary arteries crosses the heart muscle instead of resting on its surface.
Dr Han Suyin said the disease would have put Mr Fennelly at an increased risk of sudden cardiac death, especially since he was also a diabetic. She told the inquiry that some studies estimated that up to 25% of the population could be affected by myocardial bypass surgery.
“It can be quite common, but not everyone will have symptoms and not everyone will be at risk for sudden cardiac death,” the pathologist observed.
Dr Han Suyin said Mr Fennelly also suffered numerous fractures to his ribs and neck bones, while his left lung collapsed. The pathologist said such injuries could easily have caused the victim’s death on their own.
However, she said there was no evidence to suggest Mr Fennelly had died of drowning and she was convinced he had died before he was submerged in the water.
Dr Han Suyin said it was a “very difficult case” as the victim was still at risk of developing a fatal irregular heartbeat due to his pre-existing condition.
She noted that increased demands are placed on the heart by people who engage in “adrenaline-driven sports”. The pathologist said kitesurfing in strong winds could have triggered cardiac arrest which would have caused Mr Fennelly to lose consciousness in the air.
She said the impact of the fall would have caused instant death.
The deceased’s sister, Elaine Fennelly, said her brother was extremely fit and regularly participated in extreme sports, including triathlons, Ironman events and kitesurfing.
She recalled how he surprised hospital consultants with his level of fitness given he had diabetes. Although he worked for the housing association Clúid, he was also a qualified nutritionist.
“He really looked after himself,” Ms Fennelly said. “He was a pro-athlete in every aspect. He was amazing. Ms Fennelly fought back tears as she described how her brother had been involved in kitesurfing for 15 years and went out ‘whenever it was windy’.
“He was a very experienced kitesurfer. Cart mount [Strand] was his second home,” she observed.
Ms Fennelly told the inquest that her brother’s watch, which had a heart monitor, stopped at 8.43am that morning, indicating that was when he had suffered fatal cardiac arrest. “I think his time was up. Her heart had stopped and that was it,’ Ms Fennelly said.
She said the wind had nothing to do with her brother’s death as photographs had been taken that day which appeared to show he had passed out in mid-air.
Coroner Dr Clare Keane delivered a narrative verdict reflecting the complexity of Mr Fennelly’s death from a myocardial bridge which caused a fatal irregular heartbeat, while traumatic chest and neck injuries were a contributing factor.
Dr Keane expressed his sympathy to Mr Fennelly’s family for ‘the loss of such a young man in his prime’. Following the investigation, her sister urged all extreme sports enthusiasts to get tested for the potentially deadly disease.
“Everyone really should get checked out because there are a lot of people like Ger who seem perfectly fine but don’t know they’re at risk,” Ms Fennelly said.
She said various fundraising efforts for charities linked to Sudden Adult Death Syndrome in memory of her brother raised more than €21,500 in the year following his death.
Ms Fennelly, who started a GoFundMe campaign to buy new defibrillators for Dollymount Strand, also called on people not to steal or vandalize such vital equipment.