A courageous Lancashire couple whose son died suddenly five years ago have turned grief to hope by funding hundreds of free heart tests for young Lancashire residents.
As Paula and Barry Hesmondhalgh launch a bumper new year raffle they have vowed to carry on fund-raising for more CRY (Cardiac Risk in The Young) screening tests.
Their legacy project follows their son Matthew’s tragic death at the age of 22.
Matthew collapsed in 2011 on an evening out in Bilsborrow, near Preston, from Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome (SADS).
Since then the Catterall couple have raised £60,000 and funded 603 heart tests. There will be more free screening tests in February.
Paula said: “When you lose someone so suddenly pain envelops every part of your life and every part of your being. We have no choice but to cope. But I know we are not alone. Others feel all the brokenness and there are so many tears. But it’s all so needless when a small test can identify so many of those at risk.”
They want to spare other families the grief they endure. Paula said: “It’s been acknowledged that one in 300 young people aged 14-45 has an underlying heart abnormality that makes them at increased risk of cardiac arrest. In 80 per cent of sudden arrhythmic death victims there are no symptoms. It just makes sense to have young people tested. Our key message is screening can and does save lives.”
Paula, said goodbye to her son Matthew, known as Matt, as he went out for a chat and a pint at Owd Nell’s Tavern at Bilsborrow.
But he never came home. Matt collapsed at the pub on August 15, 2011. Paramedics battled in vain to resuscitate him.
The grief has not gone, but Paula and Barry, a building technician at Preston City Council, decided to put their tragedy to potentially life-saving use by fund-raising to provide heart checks through CRY and by raising awareness of the whole issue of undetected heart problems among the young.
Of those screened so far, 18 were identified as needing further follow-up tests.
The fund-raisers have ranged from cakes sales and coffee mornings to a summer ball, a fashion evening, quizzes and even a Tough Mudder challenge and to date have brought in some £60,000.
She says Matthew was a keen charity fund-raiser and this too spurs her on: “He was a kind, caring young man.
“He did a lot of fund-raising for other people. He was such a character. Our heartbreak may never end, but we just feel so blessed to have had Matt in our lives.”
She said: “Almost every week this year we’ve been involved in something, either raising awareness of cardiac risks of putting an event on, but we couldn’t have done it without everybody’s support.
“It’s been an amazing year really. People have been amazing – our young friends and his. This year we’ve probably raised about £13,500.”
Over he years they have also travelled far and wide across the country to support events arranged in Matt’s memory.
Paula says her fund-raising work has kept her busy and has been a way of coping too.
On the evening of his death Matt had felt a little unwell, but rallied and felt well enough to go out, promising he would not be long and assuring his parents he was feeling a lot better.
“We have asked ourselves so many times - is that what was troubling Matt at tea time that fateful day, but how many times have we all felt like that, and how are we supposed to tell if it is a sign of a serious heart condition?”
Paula knows they could not have known just how unwell he was, but said: “You do feel guilty some days that you didn’t protect your son, that a mother should.
“Sometimes that feeling can be overwhelming and soul destroying.”
Paula said: “All the events we’ve had, everything that other people have organised, they are all brilliant tributes to him and also to the community he belonged to. He was so proud of where he came from.”
•The next CRY screening session is at Garstang Community Academy on February 25 and 26.
•A giant raffle in aid of Matt’s Memorial Fund will be drawn at the screening event. Tickets are now on sale price £2.
The first prize is a luxury Easter break for four at Tall Trees Lodge, Windermere. The second prize is a pair of Anthony Joshua signed boxing gloves and there are many more prizes on offer. See The Matthew Hesmondhalgh Memorial Fund-CRY page on Facebook or call Paula on 07785 106976 for details of where to purchase tickets.