IT’S ALMOST FOUR years ago now since Liam McLaughlin’s life changed to the point where it might well have ended.
He’d been suffering with indigestion for a few weeks and doctors couldn’t quite put their finger on the nub of the problem.
Photo caption: Referee Liam McLaughlin from Letterkenny is officiating in the Donegal League
Driving back from a trip to Meath one Wednesday night, he had ‘had enough’ and paid a visit to NowDoc on his return to Letterkenny. An ambulance was called immediately, such was the severity of the findings.
On the Thursday morning, an angiogram at Letterkenny General Hospital confirmed a complete blockage of one of his arteries.
“A part of my heart died,” says McLaughlin, of Lismonaghan, Letterkenny, who has made a remarkable recovery and is now a well-known referee in the local soccer scene.
That is despite being told in 2012 his chances ‘of working or having a proper life just weren’t there’.
It’s been quite a journey from those moments, in the days leading up to the start of Euro 2012, to now, when he packs the kitbag and enjoys the beautiful game again.
“I had a numb feeling in my jaw and hadn’t felt right for weeks – one night I couldn’t take any more; I had enough and got into NowDoc, just in the nick of time,” says McLaughlin, a Graphic Design Specialist at Pramerica.
“The angiogram machine comes to Letterkenny one day a week. I was lucky that I went in when I did.
“They found that blockage – a 100 per cent blockage. I was rushed down to St James’ Hospital in Dublin. I deteriorated on the way down. I made it to get a stent inserted with not much time to spare.”
His consultants believed he suffered a massive heart attack weeks beforehand. Their outlook wasn’t too positive, either.
“That’s a very dark place,” McLaughlin says.
“To be told, at the age of 32 that you’re not going to have a normal life is not exactly news that you want to be hearing, with you and your partner (Shauna McDevitt from Castlederg) planning for the future.”
The issues stemmed from an overactive thyroid. McLaughlin’s weight had plummeted to 10 and a half stone, but he was soon up to just over 17 stone because of medication.
“I decided one day: ‘I can’t live like this’,” he says. “I was walking 100 yards and was out of breath because I was so heavy.
“I started just doing small things, like walking briskly, jogging 50 metres and sitting down. I built it up from there.”
A check-up in Dublin that included a stress test gave McLaughlin the news he craved so badly.
“They were amazed at my recovery,” he says of the news he received from his medics. “My fitness levels had changed so much before that, but sure I was unaware of the ticking time bomb inside of me – that was there for maybe three or four years and getting worse.
“The stress test went unbelievably well and I was back on the road again.”
McLaughlin had to give up his job as a financial advisor, but in October 2012 he started work in Pramerica as a Graphic Design Specialist.
“They were really good to me and still are,” he says of his employers. “They gave me 12 weeks off when I had the radiation treatment at the end of 2013.”
McLaughlin played for the likes of Bonagee United, Letterkenny Rovers and Downtown United in his youth. In November 2014, missing the matchday buzz, he did a referees’ course in Sligo.
Last February, he took to the field as a referee for the first time when he took charge of a Letterkenny and District Schoolboys League game between Ballyraine United and Keadue Rovers at the Letterkenny Community Centre.
“Charlie Shiels had managed me at underage level and he was there with Ballyraine so that was very comforting,” says McLaughlin.
“Fellow referee, Gerry Gallagher came out and watched my second and third games so I got good confidence from that. I felt I did pretty well and I got plenty of encouragement along the way.
“I knew a few boys like Marty McGarrigle who were already refereeing so it was a good way for me to stay active.
“I’ve enjoyed it. There’s a good support network for referees and you’re never on your own.”
After a couple of assessments by Referee’s Assessor Bernard Foy he was moved up the grades. In May, McLaughlin took charge of the Under-12 Champions League final between Letterkenny Rovers and Bonagee United at St Patrick’s Park in Drumkeen.
By August, he was ready to whistle at senior level and his introduction to the Donegal League was at Finn View Park and a game between Ballybofey United and Eany Celtic.
“That wasn’t as daunting as the schoolboys games I did at the start,” McLaughlin says.
“I had played and watched plenty of adult games but it was years since I watched the schoolboys. I felt more at home doing the adult fixture.
“I enjoy it. You will make mistakes, but everyone will. Ninetynine per cent of people are very good. The good definitely outweighs the bad.
“It’s just about being able to walk off and put the game behind you. I wasn’t too sure in the first couple of weeks, but I soon settled. I just gave it a chance.
“You find that, even if you played for years, you know very little about the game. It’s been a big learning curve – but I’m just glad to be able to do it and enjoy it.”Tags: