First Time Irish Surfer Tears Neck Artery And Dies Three Days Later

Prepare for me to sound really smart…I've heard of this happening to Japanese tourists learning to surf for their first time at Waikiki. What happens is the person learning will be laying on their stomach and looking over their shoulder waiting for a wave for an extended period of time—a position they've probably never been in. I'm sure a doctor can explain it better but somehow the artery(s) in the neck get constricted and that's that. It makes sense in this case, too, the guy was out for his first time for about four hours. Something to remember next time you teach someone how to surf…

Bundoran Beach Ireland

As reported on

Surfer died after tearing neck artery

James Mackey (33), of Ballygawley, Co Sligo, was taken by ambulance to Sligo General Hospital on August 19th, 2007, after he collapsed at a friend's house. He was transferred to Beaumont Hospital in Dublin later that day, where he died three days later.

An inquest into his death at Dublin City Coroner's Court yesterday heard that Mr Mackey, who was fit and healthy, had been surfing with a friend, Vanessa Salvador, in Bundoran, Co Donegal, on August 16th and 17th and began complaining of pain and stiffness in his neck on the second day.

Despite the pain, Mr Mackey, who had never surfed before, spent about four hours on the water that day. Neck pain is common when surfing, Ms Salvador told the inquest.

Mr Mackey, who was originally from Johnstown, Co Kilkenny, and who worked as a painter and landscape gardener, continued to complain of a sore neck and dizziness the following day and later that evening attended a GP in Collooney, Co Sligo, who prescribed Serc tablets.

He then returned to the home of friends where he went to bed. The inquest heard that Mr Mackey experienced a dramatic deterioration in his condition overnight, and that while he was 100 per cent alert at the doctor's the previous evening, by the time he arrived at Sligo General Hospital at 11am the following day, he was deeply unresponsive and had the lowest level of consciousness compatible with life.

A postmortem revealed that Mr Mackey died of a stroke due to a traumatic dissection of the left vertebral artery (one of the arteries carrying blood to the brain) in his neck. The dissection or tear occurred while Mr Mackey was surfing and was potentially exacerbated by a minor crash in which Mr Mackey was involved while returning from Bundoran on the night of August 17th, when he hit a sign at Gubacreeney, Co Leitrim.

Of critical importance was a finding at postmortem that Mr Mackey had an abnormality of the circulatory and vascular system, namely an extreme narrowing of a number of the other blood vessels providing blood to the brain (the right posterior cerebral artery, the left posterior communicating artery and the right vertebral artery).

A consultant neuropathologist at Beaumont Hospital, Prof Michael Farrell, said it was an, "absolutely exceptional case. It's impossible to ignore the surfing. That was the start of the process when the small tear occurred in the artery," said Prof Farrell, who said dissections of the vertebral arteries are commonly seen in people who have been hit from behind in a road traffic crash, but are also seen when people drink shots, practice archery and in children using trampolines.