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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

Galway have lot to ponder in poor show



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013




GALWAY’S first serious examination of the 2013 season rather disturbingly ended with a rating well below the 40% pass mark at the idyllic, if rather Siberian, seaside setting of Enniscrone on Sunday last.

The defeat cost Galway a place in the FBD League Final against Leitrim and also put a fair dent on their confidence shield for the bigger tests that lie ahead in February.

There was no fluke element in this success by an understrength Sligo side and by the time Leitrim referee, Frank Flynn, sounded the final whistle, there wasn’t a perished soul in the crowd of about 500 who could question the justice of the outcome.

It is only pre-season and last Sunday’s blast of dry polar winds did remind everyone that this is far from summer football, but make no mistake about it, the match did lay down some very worrying markers for Galway following a couple of victories over below par third level college teams.

Galway did start the game quite positively, leading by four points at the end of a first quarter when they missed as much more, but when Sligo stepped up the tempo of the game in the 10 minutes before half-time, the maroon resistance crumbled with frightening rapidity.

Some of the statistics of the match make for grim perusal. Over the course of the hour, Galway only scored two points from play and they went through a 52 minute period of the match, without raising a white flag – admittedly a late rally did bring them close to a draw but that would have been very rough justice on Sligo.

Sligo were backable at 9/4 coming into this match, the odds being stretched with the ‘missing list’ on Kevin Walsh’s team sheet – Adrian Marren, Stephen Coen, Tony Taylor, Ross Donovan, David Kelly, David Maye, Johnny Davey and Eamon O’Hara, were all marked absent for a variety of reasons.

Walsh has his Sligo side well schooled in the high intensity, close quarters type of football, and the harder Galway tried to go through the short game channels, the more the home side bottled them up.

Galway badly needed to find some variety in their attacking strategy and maybe there is a lot to be said for the traditional Meath style of giving long, quick ball to a full forward line with a big target man on the edge of the square – given Paul Conroy’s prowess close to goal last season, maybe it is time to ‘settle’ on a few basics.

Defensively, Galway were reasonably solid with Gary Sice at centre back probably their best player – he was one of the few men in maroon to deliver decent long ball deep into the attacking zone – while Finian Hanley, Conor Costello and Gary O’Donnell also kept things tight.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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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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