Undertones drummer Billy Doherty opens up about stroke

Published
Image caption,
The Undertones drummer Billy Doherty is back behind the drum kit after a health scare late last year

When The Undertones drummer Billy Doherty left hospital following a heart attack last December little could he know what lay ahead.

Just five days later the Londonderry musician suffered a stroke.

"Your system shuts down so quickly. I lost coordination of my arms, legs and speech but you are totally aware of what is going on," he said.

Image caption,
Billy said when he "counts his blessings" he "counts the band twice."

The band had been playing a show in Dublin in early December when Doherty started to fell unwell.

Initially he put the pain in his arm down to the excesses of drumming and his sore throat down to tiredness.

When the problems persisted, he sought medical advice.

Surgery saw two stents fitted.

'Something wasn't correct'

Just five days after he was discharged from Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry Billy started to feel unwell again.

"That morning I knew something wasn't correct," he said.

"I was with a friend and couldn't understand what he was saying. When I was responding I was really struggling for the words," he told BBC Radio Foyle.

"I thought it was bizarre, I thought I was having a heart attack again."

Image caption,
Billy is full of praise for staff at Altnagelvin Hospital

By early evening things were no better.

"I was sat on the sofa and looking at my mobile phone thinking 'why is it moving on the sofa?', 'why is the sofa moving?'

"I couldn't figure it out. Then this pain shot through my head and I went 'wow there's something not right."

Doherty, an Undertone since their inception in Derry in the mid-1970s, said he had a window of about a minute to call his sister. He also dialled 999.

Lost coordination

He said: "I had lost coordination really quickly. I couldn't get the phone to my ear. I could hear the emergency services saying 'what's your name? 'Where do you live?'

"And I'm thinking why can't these guys hear me?

"It was because the phone was so far away from my ear," he said.

His sister had also made a 999 call.

The paramedics confirmed he had suffered a TIA (transient ischaemic attack) or mini-stroke.

"Your system just shuts down so quickly. They were asking me my name, but I couldn't remember, I couldn't remember what month it was, or where I lived.

"Your brain knows exactly but it doesn't come out," he said.

Image caption,
The Undertones were formed by a group of friends in the 1970s

Early 2018 Undertones shows were cancelled to allow Doherty, who feared he may never drum again, to recover.

He credits the support of his family and friends - not least the other members of the band - and the expertise of the medical teams looking after him, for having him back playing in the summer of 2018.

Billy said when he "counts his blessings" he "counts the band twice."

He is quick to laud the "incredible health service" staff in his hometown of Derry

'Good to talk'

At his comeback show - a trial run to see if he was ready to get back behind the kit- in mid 2018 the consultants who cared for him were on the guest list.

Now the "good days outnumber the not so good."

He hopes speaking publicly will encourage others to be more open about their health.

"Don't ever feel like you are imposing on people," he said.

"Just talk to someone if you are not feeling well. It is a bit of a cliché, I know, but it really is good to talk," he added.