A model son

There’s not a minute goes by when Catherine Hartlebury and her husband Alan don’t feel the intense pain of losing their precious son.

Alan, 46, still finds himself looking at the door when he hears it open, expecting fun-loving Andy to walk in at any minute.

Each time he has to face the renewed heartache of his loss.

Catherine, 40, says she can’t stop the habit of putting six plates out as she dishes up the evening meal.

His VW Golf, his pride and joy, remains outside the home because it was such a part of him they can’t bear to part with it.

A large picture of Everton-supporting Andrew dominates the immaculate living room at the Hartlebury family home in Coniston Road, Dalton.

His girlfriend Charlotte Martin still visits the family regularly.

The cheeky-faced young man looks so happy, so full of life, yet he was struck down in his prime by heart failure as he played football, at the age of 21. The cause? A virus he didn’t even know he had, which triggered the heart condition myocarditis which suddenly kills at least eight young adults a week.

Sadly the disease often goes unnoticed until it’s too late but can be prevented if spotted in time.

According to leading charity CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young) unexplained ‘sudden death’, where there is no cause identified, is frequently classified as due to natural causes in the UK. Experts believe that the majority of these deaths are due to Sudden Death Syndrome, or myocarditis.

Until the law is changed and coroners have to refer heart attack cases on to specialists, they cannot find the true statistics.

Speaking out for the first time about their loss, it’s clear to see how difficult it is for them both to revisit that fateful evening.

Mr Hartlebury said: “Andrew was sat in the living room eating tea when we came in. He was in an exceptional good mood and left about 8pm.

“About an hour later the police were here and told us that Andrew had had a serious accident. I assumed it must have been in his car. It didn’t even occur to me it would have been at football.”

He remembers arriving at Furness General Hospital and seeing a team of doctors and nurses working on his son.

He added: “It was just all so surreal, and over in seconds.

“To be honest I think he had gone already, on the pitch.

“It was an absolute nightmare and I wouldn’t wish it on any parent.

“It wasn’t until the inquest that we found out he had died because of heart failure.

“It was a total shock.”

Andrew died on January 30 after collapsing during a match for his works team, Jackson’s Timber, on January 30.

The couple still have three other children living at home, Sarah, 18, Alison, 15 and 12-year-old Stephen. Mrs Hartlebury says their other son idolised his big brother and shared a room with him.

He has been hit extremely hard by his death, as have his sisters.

Catherine says it’s not only close family who have been left devastated by his death, as Andrew had so many close friends who are also finding it hard to come to terms with the loss. She added: “It’s just hard to understand why? Andrew was a healthy, young man. He didn’t smoke or do drugs. He liked a pint or two like any young lad his age.

“More parents need to be made aware of this illness. Healthy young people don’t just die. There should be tests that can be done as a matter of routine, just so it can be eliminated.”

Alan said: “It is just such a waste of a young life. Someone needs to do something to raise awareness of this illness.”

“We still have our of days and some days are harder than others.”


Dr Sanjay Sharma is a leading London cardiologist and works closely with CRY to raise awareness of sudden death in the young.

He said myocarditis is inflammation of heart muscle.

It is usually due to a viral illness and accounts for one per cent of all sudden cardiac deaths.

He said: “In young adults up to 20 per cent of all cases of sudden cardiac death may be due to myocarditis.

“Myocarditis accounts for seven per cent of all exercise related sudden cardiac deaths.”