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No one knew that Amy had a heart problem until her sudden death. Afterwards, her father Andrew Osborne set out to help others by rowing the Atlantic
One January evening five years ago, my eldest daughter rang me up and said she had found my youngest daughter, Amy, dead in bed. Amy was 24. She just suddenly died in her sleep. It’s like adult cot death. There is nothing more horrific for a parent than losing a child.
Amy’s mum and I sat there, banging the table, demanding answers from these wonderful medical people, saying, “Tell us why our daughter died.” They said, “Her heart stopped”. “How?” “It’s not a heart attack, the heart just stops. It’s like someone has pulled out the heart’s battery leads.”
My daughter Amy became part of this crazy number of 12 people a week in the UK who will just drop down dead from an undiagnosed heart condition. It often happens in their sleep, or on the netball or football pitch. We want to raise awareness and funds so that people can get their children screened. It’s so simple to sort out.
At a very good Sunday lunch two years ago, I announced that I was going to sail solo across the Atlantic to raise money. Quite rightly, my friend said, “No one’s going to give money to your charity if you sail, that’s just a ruddy holiday. Why don’t you row across it?” Four bottles of claret later, I had decided to row across the Atlantic.
I trained for 18 months, but you can’t really train for the Atlantic, because there’s no sea that’s like an ocean. I got a lot of advice from James Cracknell, who did it about ten years ago with Ben Fogle. Cracknell and I met through a mutual friend and he’s a patron of Cardiac Risk in the Young, which is great. I said to him, “I rowed at school, but I’m about as far from an Olympic rower as you can get. Oh, and there’s one thing I haven’t told you, James. I’ve only got one finger on one hand.”
I’ve only got one finger on my left hand because I had an accident with a shotgun years ago. The barrel exploded in my hand and took three fingers off. James said, “You’re going to end up in Iceland.” He thought I was going to go in a circle.
I did have a prosthetic. But because you’re only ten inches off the ocean, you’re getting covered in salt and you get terrible salt sores because when it dries, it’s like sandpaper. The prosthetic soaked it up and got so sore that I actually didn’t use it. I just used my finger and my thumb on my left hand to row. Maybe it wouldn’t have taken 11 weeks if I had a full left hand.
I set off in January and rowed utterly on my own for 78 days. Amy loved the sea, but I’m not sure if she would have rowed across the Atlantic. She would have thought I was a complete blithering idiot to do it. But I’m 99 per cent sure she thought that before she left us.
I had two big capsizes. It felt like an hour, but my boat was probably upside down for 12 minutes. That was followed by half an hour of sobbing, thinking, “I’ve nearly just died.”