Father calls for compulsory screening

The father of John McCall, the Royal School rugby team’s Schools’ Cup-winning captain who died as a result of a heart defect in 2004, has once again called for more screening of young people.

Ian McCalll spoke to the Gazette following the recent deaths of two young children in Tyrone and insisted all children of secondary-school age should be screened for any potential heart defects.

It was in March 2004 that 18-year-old John collapsed during Ireland’s opening U19 Rugby World Cup fixture against New Zealand at Durban. Just a week earlier John led the Royal School Armagh to Schools’ Cup victory at Ravenhill.

But since John’s death the McCall family have been firm supporters of CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young).

In fact the McCalls are the County Armagh representatives for the charity and they are behind any new move by Government to introduce compulsory screening.

“We would advise parents of any child of secondary school age to have them screened,” said Ian.

“I can’t say that enough. It’s not difficult, it only takes about 20 or 25 minutes and only costs £35.

“We only hear of the John McCalls and the Cormac McAnallens because they are high profile people.

“Since then there have been a number of families in the Armagh area and further a field who have experienced sudden cardiac death.

“In Italy it is compulsory to have children screened when they reach a certain age and that has been happening there for 25 years.

“So it can happen in Italy, there’s no reason why it can’t happen in Northern Ireland.”

Already in the province several aspiring young sports starts have been forced into retirement because of defects discovered in scans.

“There are so many types of defects. The type that caused John’s death was a viral form of cardiomyopathy, so a scan wouldn’t have picked that up unless it was done at the time of infection,” continued Ian.

“I cannot stress just how important screening is.

“Rugby has started to screen all players who play at representative level and the GAA does the same with their players.

“However, regardless if a child is involved in sport or not, they should still be screened,” insisted Ian.

Since the death of their son the McCall family have all been screened and have been involved in developing a new specialist screening unit at the University of Ulster.

“We don’t hear about all of the deaths. John’s death and Cormac’s death has kicked off a lot more interest and helped get this going with the University of Ulster.

“Since the clinic was launched in November last year it has been very busy, sometimes even over-subscribed.

“But it is well worth going through the process.

“We’ve got to use John’s death so other families do not suffer the same fate. Parents must listen and they must take action.”

For an appointment, contact the CRY Northern Ireland Screening Administrator on 01737 363 222, or email


“For further news on the work of CRY – and information on cardiac conditions and sudden cardiac death – check out the website at http://www.c-r-y.org.uk