Carmen Catanescu

I lost my girlfriend Carmen to a congenital coarctation of the aorta on the 25th of September 2012.

She was the love of my life – a fantastic daughter, sister and friend. She was very bubbly, outgoing and friendly to everyone she met, she always wore a beaming smile and was so full of life.

I was lucky to find my soul mate that Saturday night in December 2009 on the dance floor in Chicago’s, dancing away as she so enjoyed. We fell for each other quite quickly over that Christmas period, going bowling, a snowy walk over Kinver Edge and seeing ‘Avatar’ which had just been released at the cinema. I felt relaxed with Carmen, she was so easy to be around we could talk about anything.

Carmen was from west Romania, a city named Timisoara. She moved to England in January 2008 after her sister Lucica had made the move a few months earlier. She found a job as a Taxi rank operator and also delivered catalogues; then in August 2009 she became a carer for elderly residents at a care home, where she worked for over three years.

At this time she also started to study City & Guilds English at college. She had also always wanted to learn to drive and started in 2010. It seems coincidental that she finally gained her driving licence only eleven days before her passing; after trying so hard to get the licence, she was looking around at cars and was excited about finally having her own wheels.

It was also September in which she started a full time course in Beauty Therapy at Dudley College, as she had always wanted to work in a beauty salon. I am sure she would have worked hard and passed the course with flying colours.

I will never forget that grey Tuesday, September 25th 2012, at 2.10pm on a very normal day at work, getting a call from the A&E department at Russells Hall Hospital. I was told to come over immediately. I knew she was having a blood test at a local clinic as that was the last text message I received from her at 12.40pm. This was because she had been suffering chest pains since the Saturday before.

On the Saturday I was actually driving to view a car for her – she was at home asleep as she had worked a night shift on Friday and had driven solo for the first time in my car. I had a text message to come home urgently as she had a massive pain in the centre of her chest and was short of breath. I turned round as I was only two miles away. I got back, helped her out of bed thinking “what could it be?”. She had vomited earlier in the morning and was very pale, so I drove her to the local NHS drop-in centre. I can’t blame anyone on duty that day as they took her blood pressure and oxygen levels quickly as she had complained of chest pains. Nothing was discovered out of the ordinary, so they thought maybe Carmen had pulled a muscle in her chest.

The following Sunday, she rang the care home and told them she wasn’t well enough to work. It was a horrible wet day so we spent most of it on the sofa, watching TV and eating normally.

On Monday she went to her local medical practice as she still didn’t feel right. They thought she had a stomach infection. When we were talking during our last evening together she said the pain in the chest had gone, but she still felt something when she laughed.

So Tuesday morning arrived, I left for work and as usual gave her a kiss as she slept in bed – not knowing this is would be the last time I would see her alive. I texted her when I got to work to see how she was – she was still in pain so didn’t go to college.

She walked to the same medical practice as the day before and saw a different GP. The pain was getting worse and she was struggling to walk, so this time she went for a blood test. She was waiting for the results in the canteen – this was the last time I had a text from her.

About 1pm she collapsed and was rushed to A&E where the Coroner later discovered she had a Congenital Coarctation of the Aorta, which caused a Ruptured Aortic Aneurysm. I was at work when at 2.10pm I had a call from the A&E department; they didn’t tell me what had happened, just to get over as soon as possible, so I left work wondering what had happened. When I arrived I was expecting her to be in one of the cubicles, sitting up in bed smiling at me, but I was led into the room where they broke the news and my world stop spinning and went into a daze.

I went to see her in a room lying on a bed peacefully. I sat with her holding her hand, and kissed her for the last time. I then realised I had to tell her sister which was really hard to do over the phone.

The funeral was held in Timisoara on the 3rd of October, so her brother arranged for her to be driven back home. We had to arrange a lot in the first few days but somehow we managed. I flew over with Lucica and her boyfriend; the funeral was a Christian Orthodox service on a bright sunny day – I felt so sorry for her parents, though at least they saw her in July when we visited. It was hard with the language barrier but I am glad I went to say goodbye. I will never forget the sight of the coffin being lowered into the ground for as long as I live.

I am still in a state of disbelief at what has happened – it puts life into perspective. I try not to think about that day when the chest pains started and could I have done more? What if I had taken her to a different hospital that day? Would she have been diagnosed differently? It has been overwhelming – I constantly think about her, the good times we had in the three years we shared and eighteen months of living together. I have got to accept what has happened and carry on with life. I have had a lot of support from family and friends – even from people who I don’t know on Facebook.

I hope to raise awareness of cardiac risk in the young, as I cant believe this can happen to someone so young with their life in front of them – especially as the condition Carmen had was there from birth, with no warning signs before what happened on the Saturday.

The care home where she works are planting a rose for her and I want to get a remembrance plaque at the local cemetery to visit, as I probably will never visit where she is buried. I would like the Henry Van Dyke poem “For Katrina’s Sundial” to be included on the plaque: Hours fly, flowers die, new days, new ways, pass by. Love stays.

I will never forget Carmen.

Stephen Haynes