An 82-year-old city man, who survived three heart attacks and has been volunteering with the local heart and stroke charity Croí for 19 years, has received a prestigious international award.
Vincent Browne from Renmore Park, was one of 12 people around the world representing 11 countries, and the first Irish person ever, to be honoured with the 2015 Medtronic Bakken Award.
Unfortunately, the father of seven and grandfather of 16, was unable to travel to the celebratory event in Hawaii with Medtronic founder, Earl Bakken, and the other award recipients in January because he was undergoing medical treatment. However, he attended a special celebratory event in his honour at the Medtronic Customer Innovation Centre in Parkmore on Friday.
The award recognises people who have overcome health challenges with the help of medical technology and are making outstanding contributions of service, volunteerism and leadership. The recipients of the awards use their “extra life” to support communities all over the world, according to the organisers.
As part of the accolade, each recipient nominates a charity to receive a $20,000 grant from Medtronic Philanthropy. Croí, the West of Ireland Cardiac Foundation, will receive this grant.
Mr Browne, who is originally from Mullingar, moved to Galway in 1952 to take up a job in the then CIE’s bus cash office. He was later in charge of Bus Eireann’s regional manager’s office and retired from the position in 1996 after 44 years.
He had his first heart attack in 1990. “The first indication I had that anything was wrong was when I was a blood donor in the mid 1980s,” he says. “The blood bank turned me down and referred me to a doctor because my blood pressure was so high.”
His first heart attack was “major” and was a “frightening experience”. “It happened in the middle of the night at home,” he recalls. “My neighbours heard me moving around, I was in severe pain. I had an angioplasty [a procedure to widen blocked arteries] then. I had two others later as the blockages became more severe and a by-pass operation in 1994. Dr Nelligan [the late Irish heart surgeon] operated on me in Dublin, he was very nice and very able.
“Heart disease was in my family. My eldest brother died at 49 from a heart attack and my other two brothers had by-pass operations.”
Following his second heart attack in 2002 he had three stents fitted. He received another stent in March 2003. Vincent had another heart attack in 2009.
“That was pretty bad but I have always recovered well. My ambition each time I got ill was to get out of hospital and get going again.”
He singles out Professor Kieran Daly, the consultant cardiologist at University Hospital Galway, for special praise saying he is “one of the top specialists in the country” and has been his cardiologist for the past 30 years.
In 2012 there were indications that Vincent was going to have another heart attack so he had two more stents fitted. He received his seventh in January, which prevented him from attending the award ceremony in Hawaii.
Despite heart attacks, numerous stents and a bad back (he had four disc operations and spent six months in hospital ) Vincent Browne has no intention of slowing down. He has been involved in indoor bowling since 2001 and was one of the top players in the west. He was a founder member and the first president of the Western Bowling Association. His wife, Sheila, originally worked around the corner from his workplace - she was the manager of the Great Southern Hotel - and is also a keen player. Vincent was also the secretary of the Commercial Boat Club in the mid 1950s.
“The secret is not to lie down and feel sorry for yourself,” is his advice to others. “My motto regarding hospital procedures has always been: Get in, get it done and get back in action. I wasn’t a worrier where procedures were concerned. I trusted the experts. I think it’s good to keep busy, value the second chance you have been given and use it to improve the facilities and services being provided by charities.”
He has volunteered for the past 19 years with Croí in a bid to help it raise vital funds in its fight against heart disease and stroke.
Speaking at the award ceremony he said: “I have volunteered with Croí by collecting at the church gates and flag day fundraising as well as counting the coins and collection boxes. Surely, I have raised many thousands of euros but what I find gratifying is that when I started, we were just raising money for one of the first cardiac devices at Galway’s hospital. This past year, Croí grew to welcome almost 19,000 people. It’s hard to believe that this started with our standing at the church gate.”
Jacob Gayle, the vice president of Medtronic Philanthropy, said this year’s award winners were very inspiring. “After receiving medical therapy that gave them extra time, they selflessly shifted their focus to others when it would have been easier to focus on themselves. Their stories are a powerful reminder that we can all give back - no matter our current situation.”
Speaking at the award ceremony, the CEO of Croí, Neil Johnson said this “very significant honour” for Vincent and his family was “richly deserved”.
“He is an outstanding volunteer who has overcome significant personal health challenges, yet through all of this he has shown exceptional commitment and dedication as a volunteer. He is a fine example of someone who appreciates the advances of modern medicine and who wants to give something back for the benefit of others.”
Professor Kieran Daly outlined that Vincent Browne’s treatment and care “mirrors the tremendous medical advances in cardiology” that have taken place in Galway over the years.
“These include the development of stent technology by companies like Medtronic, to hospital cardiology service advancement - much of which was supported by Croi and made possible through the voluntary fundraising efforts of people like Vincent Browne.”