Martin McGuinness: amyloidosis was the bullet he could not dodge

When Martin McGuinness announced in January that he was standing down from politics because of his health, few people were aware of the reason. He looked drawn and sounded slightly breathless when speaking but otherwise it was not obviously apparent that he was in fact a dying man, and dying rapidly. He said at the time that his condition was serious but gave few other details.

We now know the reason why, and in fact his fate may have been sealed from the day he was born. Without wishing to draw on too many political analogies, he was a walking health timebomb and his own heart would be the casualty. He was suffering from the rare condition amyloidosis, which in his case was probably linked to his mother who had been born in Donegal, as up to one per cent of people from that area are said to carry the gene for the condition.

Amyloidosis is a group of conditions caused by deposits of abnormal protein, called amyloid, in body organs and tissue. In healthy people, proteins originate as strips of amino acids that fold into 3D structures but in amyloid this intricate folding goes wrong, leading to clumps of thick protein forming. These slowly build up in the body, typically causing organ failure.

In the case of McGuinness this triggered his heart to slowly enlarge and fail as it struggled to pump blood effectively around his body. This in turn caused breathlessness, fatigue, fluid retention, arrhythmia and ultimately death.

About 600 cases of amyloidosis are diagnosed each year in Britain, usually in older people, with the most common type being AL amyloidosis. Kidney failure is perhaps the most common presentation I see in my surgery but any organ can be affected and it can be a tricky condition to diagnose, especially in its early stages. However, AL amyloidosis cannot be inherited so it is likely that McGuinness had inherited another type of the disease. (A build-up of amyloid protein is also implicated in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, with the pharmaceutical industry currently spending billions in trying to develop the first effective treatment to prevent this.)

The fact remains, however, that there is currently no treatment that can remove amyloid deposits from the body, so therapies are directed at attempting to prevent the production of abnormal protein chains and slow any organ damage that is occurring. Kidney transplants can be effective if it is that organ which is primarily affected, and chemotherapy can also be used to protect bone marrow function and inhibit amyloid production. Survival rates depend on the severity of the amyloid damage, the age of the patient and their general health, and how well they respond to any treatments that are given.

McGuinness will have known that there was no cure for him, and that when he went into Derry’s Altnagelvin hospital he was unlikely to come back out. Amyloidosis was simply a bullet he was never going to be able to dodge.


  • Alexsandr too

    And you expect me to be sympathetic?

  • thesickmanofeurope_com

    One less terrorist in the World…..good news all around!
    Belzebub is waiting!
    If only we could get George Soros to do the same…

  • Patrick McDonnell

    Martin McGuinness won a place for the voice of the oppressed people of Northern Ireland, of which he and his family were but a few, by using the only tactics available to him. War of any kind is never like a game of football with a referee blowing his whistle or giving a red card. Its dirty dirty dirty, whether you are in uniform or not. NI was a time bomb and nothing was done to defuse it. It’s very existence was a gerrymandered hotch-potch of a unionist majority which was bound to fail from the outset. There never was a plan for the two communities to work together. There was only a plan for the minority to be oppressed or driven out. Something had to happen and Martin McGuinness and others like him, including many who had gone before him, might have emigrated, to run away, but decided to stay and do the patriotic thing. Like it or not, these guys were truly brave men prepared to lose their lives in their quest for justice for their own people. Once they and their people ,were given the chance to be heard, a place at the table where the future of their country was being decided, they took it and the rest is history.

  • NickG

    He was a gruesome murderer who cynically followed the ‘Armalite and ballot box’ policy of Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA – and Mc Guiness – as a senior member of the PIRA Army council, was fully aware that normal constitutional means were available to seek to achieve the Marxist united Ireland they sought, yet cruelly and cynically took the view that their odds were better perusing terrorism in parallel with seeking elected office through Sinn Fein – the PIRA political front. That is until they changed their assessment due to a combination of the cumulative effect of decades of British counter insurgency strategy – the IRA were riddled with informants – and what were nothing less than bribes of promises of being feted and rewarded by the great and good.

    Shame on those that are whitewashing this nasty piece of work.

    It is nothing less than a grotesque obscenity that former British soldiers are being harassed in the courts for what went on 30 or more years ago in Northern Ireland whilst this man – and others – have been enjoying the fruits of his bloody harvest. I personally feel this especially strongly as I served in the military in Northern Ireland for nearly 2 years in the early 80s.

  • Eric Smith

    Half of all top IRA men ‘worked for security services’

    Half of all senior IRA members in the Troubles were working for intelligence services, a secret dossier of evidence into the murder of two RUC men has claimed.

    The remarkable document has laid bare a startling series of claims about the infiltration of both the police and terror groups during the ‘Dirty War’.

    It claims the IRA ran agents in the RUC and also that Dundalk Garda station was regarded by British intelligence as “a nest of vipers”, with at least two officers actively assisting the Provos.

    The information is contained in a secret 24-page document in the name of Ian Hurst — a British intelligence whistleblower — which has been seen by the Belfast Telegraph.

    The sensational claims are due to be made to Justice Peter Smithwick’s Dublin tribunal of inquiry into the murder of two senior RUC officers in 1989.

    The victims, Chief Superintendent Harry Breen and Superintendent Robert Buchanan, died in a hail of IRA gunfire as they crossed the border following an intelligence exchange with the Garda in Dundalk.

    The dossier also claims:

    The shadowy Force Research Unit (FRU) had a file on suspected rogue gardai prepared to pass information to the IRA and act as its agents. MI5 also had a network of agents with the Garda.
    The IRA had a network of informants in public agencies such as social security offices and vehicle licensing departments.
    One in four IRA members was an agent, rising to one in two among senior members.
    Martin McGuinness was involved in all strategic military decisions taken by the IRA.
    At the centre of the web of intrigue sat the IRA’s head of internal security, the agent known as Stakeknife, who took information from rogue gardai while himself working for British intelligence.

    Perhaps the most shocking claim is that a rogue Garda Sergeant leaked intelligence to Stakeknife. Stakeknife has been identified as Freddie Scappaticci, a veteran Belfast republican.

    Scappaticci has strongly denied working for British intelligence and said he had cut his links with the IRA in 1990. He is legally represented at the Smitwick Tribunal and is now considering giving evidence in person.

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/half-of-all-top-ira-men-worked-for-security-services-28694353.html

    • Eric Smith

      Not suggesting he was a willing accomplice but McGuiness would be an obvious candidate, him being so pally with the Queen and Paisley and all.

    • Ciaran Goggins

      Ian Hurst has been totally discreditted, a Walter Mitty figure.

      • Eric Smith

        MI5 tell you that or was it Gerry ?

        • Ciaran Goggins

          Ian Hurst still works part time for MI5 when not debt collecting and breaking the law in Bolton. Gerry finds him an unfunny joke.

          • Phil Gale

            Well you are an active grass for the PSNI and have been since those dodgy images were found on your lap top. Not forgetting the ALF members you got arrested. You are lower than Whale dung.

          • Phil Gale

            Remember boasting of your man love sessions with Arthur during the miners strike?

        • Phil Gale

          He makes things up, he is a compulsive liar, even the PSNI now find him to be a liability due to his side line of dealing drugs and child grooming.

          • Eric Smith

            Now that McGuinness is dead,

            Stakeknife: Spy linked to 18 murders, BBC Panorama finds

            Still, the spectacle of one British agent heading an IRA unit dedicated to rooting out and shooting other British spies is so extraordinary that I’ve often wondered how exactly the state benefitted by the intelligence services having tolerated this for the whole of the 1980s.
            The obvious person to ask is Scappaticci himself – but a draconian injunction stops journalists from approaching him, even to the point of making any enquiries about where he now lives or what he does.

            His appointment to the IRA’s Nutting Squad – a job most IRA members ran a mile from – certainly gave him that opportunity.It provided Scappaticci with unrivalled access to what the IRA high command were thinking and their war plans. Mr Scappaticci left Northern Ireland when identified by the media as Stakeknife, in 2003. It also gave him access to the names of new IRA recruits on the pretext of vetting them, plus details of IRA operations on the pretext of debriefing IRA members released from police custody to establish whether they gave away too much to their interrogators.

            http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-39573536

          • Eric Smith

            So they try to discredit Scappaticci too. That’s how you bury unwanted information.