Adam Donnelly

Our 17 year old son Adam died suddenly on 30th July 2004. That is the day my life changed forever.

We were on holiday in Cyprus with a group of friends – the day had started normally with breakfast and then down to the pool where we sat chatting for a while. My husband Jed, daughter Sian and I decided we wanted to go snorkelling in a lovely bay about 10 minutes walk away but Adam decided he would prefer to stay behind. Just before we’d left, I and another friend had been discussing teenage boys and how they can be with their mums – I said that Adam was always up for a kiss and hug – I’d given him a big kiss on the cheek and said “I love you” – he replied with his usual embarrassed “get off me!” but was smiling all the same! That was the last thing I said to him.

About 10 minutes after we’d got to the bay for snorkelling one of our friends ran down saying there was a problem. Somehow, I knew that something awful had happened.

Jed and Sian ran on ahead but my legs just wouldn’t work properly and our friend Dave ended up dragging me all the way back to the hotel – he just told me that they had pulled Adam out of the water and he was unconscious. I got to the hotel and saw my friend Angela crying – I knew then that it must be bad. I could hear an ambulance siren in the background and was told that Adam had been taken to hospital.

We were told that Adam and 3 of the boys who were with us on holiday had decided to have a game of volleyball in the pool. Adam had got out after a while saying he felt unwell and had gone to sit at the side of the pool. He then just collapsed into the water.

At the hospital, Jed was waiting in the corridor and told me that Adam had been taken to theatre. One of the holidaymakers that had tried to help Adam was, apparently, a paramedic and had given CPR to Adam by the side of the pool – she was at the hospital and came over to talk to me and said that she couldn’t get his heart started – I just couldn’t understand why she was telling me that his heart had stopped!

Eventually we were called into a side room to be told that Adam was dead on arrival. We were told that Adam would have to have a post-mortem in Cyprus and that it may take 10 days so we were then faced with the agonising decision of whether to stay there in a holiday resort surrounded by people having fun on their holidays or go home and leave Adam in Cyprus. I knew that I couldn’t stay there but walking up the steps on to the plane knowing that I was leaving Adam behind was just heart-breaking.

The 3 weeks up to his funeral were all a bit of a blur – thankfully, our friends were able to organise everything for us in Cyprus. I’m still not sure to this day how they were able to organise everything with the insurance company and authorities so well.

A second post-mortem had to be carried out once Adam had been returned to the UK which concluded that Adam had died from a cardiac arrest.

Eventually, at the inquest, cause of death was “Sudden Adult Death Syndrome (SADS)”. I just couldn’t believe that a fit, healthy 17 year old boy could die so suddenly from a cardiac arrest. I remembered that Adam had told me he had fainted at home about 4 months before he died and I began to wonder whether this was significant.

We were put in touch with CRY and sadly, realised that this was not so rare – at the time, CRY’s estimate was that 8 young people die every week in similar circumstances. This has now been revised to 12 – 12 people who die suddenly with usually no warning or symptoms.

Our journey is 6 years down the line now and I still get days when I am overwhelmed by the realisation of what has happened, but we are committed to working with CRY to raise awareness and help with their screening programmes. Through the screening that we have had, I’ve discovered I have Brugada syndrome as does my daughter Sian and other relatives in my family. This is the most likely cause of Adam’s death.

I have trained as a bereavement supporter with CRY so that, hopefully, I can provide some support to people who have lost loved ones in the same way; and I am a CRY County Representative for Kent. We have also set up a memorial fund for Adam within CRY for which we have regular fundraising events to raise money for screening events in our local community.

Life is liveable but shadowed by sadness – we carry on as best we can but my biggest sadness is the loss that Adam has had – the loss of his future.

Julie Donnelly