Donal McIlwaine

It was during a visit this summer from my home in Hampshire, to see my family in York, that I first started to feel symptoms of what I now understand was a heart attack. A pretty serious one too. 

Since the premature death of my twin brother three years ago, I occasionally experience panic attacks brought on by anxiety. Because the two can present similar symptoms – chest pain, discomfort in my arm and neck – I carried on with my weekend; albeit with a niggling suspicion that something wasn’t quite right.

It was my sister-in-law who encouraged me to call 111 for medical advice, and suffice to say an ambulance arrived not long afterwards. I was taken to Leeds General Infirmary, reassured along the way by paramedics who confirmed, to my absolute horror, that I was experiencing a STEMI - the most serious type of heart attack.

On arrival at Leeds general Infirmary, I was met by cardiovascular consultant, Professor John Greenwood. Calmly and informatively he explained that due to the severity of my heart attack, alongside the routine treatment that would be administered, I was able to participate in a clinical trial: a new technique which could reduce the long-term damage to my heart. I believe this involved using an anti-clotting agent called alteplase which was injected into my coronary artery during treatment.

I had no objection to taking part in the trial – I felt well informed and in all honesty, I felt they were saving my life. Experimenting and participating in research studies is the only way we can achieve greater advancement in medicine. They really need us, to help them, to help us get better.

I can’t remember how long the procedure took, but what profoundly struck me throughout wasn’t just the way the nurse reassuringly held my hand, or the sincerity and professionalism of Professor Greenwood and his clinical team - it was the empathy. During this time, and in the days to follow, they displayed a phenomenal ability to treat me as an individual, with no uncertainty or ignorance. There were times when I was quite frightened, and they showed that they really cared.

After I was discharged, I was offered a hospital much closer to home to complete the trial but, I knew with certainty that I wanted to stay with the team at Leeds. Although all the standard follow-up appointments are at my local hospital, the trial work will continue to be done at Leeds. I won’t know the results of the trial until it is completed in 18 months, and of course I won’t discover until then if I was injected with the alteplase drug or a placebo.

Regardless, I will always be profoundly grateful to Professor Greenwood, Michelle Anderson the research Nurse and the entire research team at Leeds for saving my life: I would have no hesitation in taking part in future clinical trials, as I feel it my duty to give something back. Without individuals like us taking part in these trials 30 years ago, I wouldn’t have survived. They have not only saved my life, but are trying to protect the lives of many thousands of other people in the future.