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Healthcare with a heart is surgeon Mark’s aim



Date Published: {J}

The Irish healthcare system, in spite of its well documented shortcomings, has a human side that is lacking in many other health systems in the world, according to cardiothoracic surgeon Mark da Costa.

Singapore born Mark, who specialises in heart and lung operations and is Lead Surgeon at UHG, recalls an occasion a couple of years ago when he removed a tumour from a patient’s lungs. For Mark, it was a routine operation. But afterwards the man’s wife gave the surgeon a big hug “and thanked me for saving her husband’s life”, he says.

It’s not every surgeon you could imagine giving a hug to, but Mark da Costa is one of them and patients express their gratitude in different ways.

Inverin woman Ursula Murry didn’t give Mark or the staff in the Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit a hug after her major surgery – instead the artist donated a painting, which has now gone on display in the Unit.

She is one of 200 patients who had cardiac surgery at UHG last year under the care of Mark and fellow surgeon Dave Verassingham who also operates on patients with thoracic problems.

It’s a far cry from the situation that existed a few years ago when the West of Ireland’s main hospital didn’t have a facility for performing heart and lung surgery.

After years of public campaigning, spearheaded by the West of Ireland Cardiology Foundation, Croí, and cardiologist Kieran Daly, the €20m facility was built and the hospital advertised for a lead surgeon. Mark applied and took up the post in October 2006, carrying out the unit’s first major bypass in May of 2007.

Mark recalls every detail about Ursula Murry’s condition and admires the way she and her family coped with her illness. Her determination to return to college to complete her art degree illustrated her great strength, he feels. And now, the hospital has one of her works.

“At one stage she said to me ‘I did a painting based on my experience’.

“I can’t think of a nicer way to express yourself,” he observes. “It was a hard journey for her, but to see her so well now and to have that painting . . . there are some things you cannot describe.”

It has now been placed in front of the nurses’ station on the ward and has joined two other paintings which the staff received from other artists.

While the country’s financial problems are affecting the Cardiothoracic Unit, with bed closures and staff being lost, including an ICU bed last year, Mark points out that “these are the

best staff that I have ever worked with. They are kind and caring, and that’s on top of the professional side of things”.

He makes that observation in light of his experience training and working in other places, which is pretty extensive.

Mark came to Ireland at 18 to study medicine in Dublin where he did most of his vascular surgical and cardiothoracic training. He completed his cardiothoracic residency in the US and then spent five years working as Associate Professor of Surgery and Consultant Cardiovascular and Cardiothoracic Surgeon in Singapore, where his work also included teaching.

His father was a respiratory physician and initially that was what Mark wanted to do. But he excelled in surgery, winning the gold medal in his final year. He didn’t do so well in medicine and felt that since the signs were pointing that way, surgery was the path he should follow.

In retrospect he is glad, saying his results and his personality were more suited to surgery.

“Although medicine is very interesting and you have to be like a detective, working to figure all the clues [about a patient’s condition] it can also be quite tedious and I am not the most patient person in the world.”

For more, read this week’s Galway City Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.


For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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Archive News

Athenry fail to take chances as they bow out of Junior Cup



Date Published: 29-Jan-2013

Athenry FC 1

Kilbarrack United 2

(After extra time)

For the second year in succession Athenry were done in extra time in the FAI Junior Cup as last season’s beaten finalist’s came from behind to snatch an excellent game in Moanbawn on Sunday afternoon.

On a heavy pitch that was only playable following extensive groundwork by club officials all morning, the home side were by far the better side in the opening half, but failed to take advantage of a number of opportunities that came their way.

An Alan O’Donovan penalty gave them a merited advantage just after the restart, but thereafter were on the back foot as Kilbarrack took over, but for all their pressing, the home rearguard were dealing comfortably with their forays.

However they were struck a body blow just six minutes from time, as big striker Keith Kirwan was left all alone at the far post to head the equaliser and from that point on the Dubliners were the better side.

They started off the extra time in the ascendancy and enjoying all the momentum before striking for a good winning goal on 104 minutes. A strong bench allowed them to make some necessary changes and it was not a facility that was available to Athenry manager Gabriel Glavin.

With Gary Forde and Gary Delaney out through suspension following their sending off against OLBC in the previous round, and Seamie Crowe injured, it left their bench rather threadbare with just a number of young squad players available.

Playing with the aid of the slight incline and any wind advantage going, the home side had a Connor Cannon effort on target in the opening minute, while John Meleady was just over with a flick at the other end.

Meleady then tested Andrew Walsh who saved comfortably, before the goalkeeper pulled off a brilliant double save on 14 minutes.

Firstly he went full length to push away a Meleady shot and was then back on his feet to parry David Jackson’s close-range rebound.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Sentinel.

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