Tragic kiteboarding family urges extreme sport participants to undergo heart screening

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An extreme sports enthusiast has died of sudden cardiac arrest caused by an undetected congenital heart problem while kitesurfing in Dublin Bay last year, an investigation has found.

The discovery led the family of the late man, Ger Fennelly, to ask all participants in extreme sports to be screened for a disease that a medical expert has said could affect up to 25% of the population and be exacerbated by ‘adrenaline’ activities ‘driven’.

An inquest into the Dublin District Coroner’s Court on Wednesday learned that Mr Fennelly, father of a child at Collinswood, Collins Avenue, Beaumont, had been pulled from the water by other kite-surfers after s’ be found in difficult conditions off Dollymount Strand on the morning of October 31, 2020.

Witnesses described how the victim showed no signs of life after rescuing him from the sea and transporting him to land.

However, the efforts of his friends, Gardaí, members of the Irish Coast Guard and the Dublin Fire Department for more than an hour to resuscitate him were unsuccessful.

Another kite-surfer, Simon Lewis, said he surfed earlier that morning but got out of the water due to the forecast for worsening weather conditions.

Mr Lewis told the hearing he ran off to rescue Mr Fennelly after seeing his friend ‘sent flying’ by ‘a huge gust’ which hit Dublin Bay.

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A family photo of Ger Fennelly (39) from Collins Avenue, Dublin, who died kitesurfing on Dollymount Strand on October 31, 2020 … Photo Collins Dublin

A family photo of Ger Fennelly (39) from Collins Avenue, Dublin, who died kitesurfing on Dollymount Strand on October 31, 2020 … Photo Collins Dublin

He estimated that the victim was around 100-150 meters from the shore when he was sent into the air by the sudden gust of wind.

Mr Lewis said it was one of the strongest gusts he had ever seen at Dollymount Strand, but at the same time the kitesurfers were taking advantage of conditions such as “high winds are exciting “.

The pathologist who performed 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 illness would have put Mr Fennelly at an increased risk of sudden cardiac death, especially since he was also diabetic.

She told the survey 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 killed the victim.

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Elaine Fennelly, sister of the late Ger Fennelly (39) pictured after testifying in County Dublin Coroners Court leaving the inquest into her brother's death.  Photo Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin


Elaine Fennelly, sister of the late Ger Fennelly (39) pictured after testifying, in County Dublin Coroners Court, leaving the inquest into her brother’s death. Photo Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

Elaine Fennelly, sister of the late Ger Fennelly (39) pictured after testifying, in County Dublin Coroners Court, leaving the inquest into her brother’s death. Photo Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

However, she said there was no evidence to suggest that Mr Fennelly had died by drowning and she was convinced he had died before being 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 were placed on the heart by people who participated in “adrenaline-fueled sports”.

The pathologist said kitesurfing in strong winds may have triggered cardiac arrest that resulted in Mr. Fennelly losing 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 in very good physical shape 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 that he suffered from diabetes. Although he worked for the Clúid housing association, he was also a qualified nutritionist.

“He really took care of himself,” Ms. Fennelly said. “He was a pro-athlete in all aspects. He was amazing.

Ms Fennelly bit back tears as she described how her brother had been kitesurfing for 15 years and went out “whenever it was windy”.

“He was a very experienced kite-surfer. Dollymount [Strand] was her second home, ”she observed.

Ms Fennelly told the inquest that her brother’s watch, which had a heart monitor, stopped at 8:43 a.m. that morning, indicating that was when he suffered a 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 were taken on the day that appeared to show he had passed out in midair.

Coroner Dr Clare Keane delivered a narrative verdict to reflect the complexity of Mr Fennelly’s death from a myocardial bridge that caused a fatal irregular heartbeat, while traumatic injuries to his chest and neck were a contributing factor.

Dr Keane expressed his condolences 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 this potentially fatal disease.

“Everyone should really get checked out because there are a lot of people like Ger who look perfectly fine but don’t know they are in danger,” Ms. Fennelly said.

She said various fundraising efforts for SIDS-related charities in memory of her brother raised more than € 21,500 in the year following his death. .

Ms Fennelly, who has launched a GoFund campaign to purchase new defibrillators for Dollymount Strand, also called on people not to steal or vandalize such lifesaving equipment.

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