Meet our Representatives – Elaine and Ian Ward

It was Friday, 18 December 1992, our last day before the Christmas holidays: Neil aged 17, Alistair aged 15, my husband Ian at Sheffield University, and myself a teacher. I’d been so proud that day, as I’d taken in some professional photos of us we’d just had taken. Little did I know that I wouldn’t be able to look at those photos again for over six months.

Sunday 20 December started as a normal day. We were baking and preparing for Christmas and the boys had put up and decorated the Christmas tree. Neil was leader of the local Venture Scout unit. His applications to university to study geography had all been sent. He went off at about 7pm to the local Scout hut for a meeting. The lads phoned us at about 8pm and said Neil had collapsed. We went down and Neil was lying on the floor, lifeless, being attended to by paramedics. They worked on him for a while and then took him by ambulance to the local hospital. We followed. I felt my knees giving way. This couldn’t be happening.

Friends came round the next day. They thought there had been a mistake. Neil (my 17-year-old son) and Ian (my 47-year-old husband). It must be Ian, they thought. 17-year-olds don’t die. My dear friends abandoned their plans for Christmas. Neil’s friends came round every day.

The funeral was arranged by the Scout Organisation in Dronfield. I don’t remember much about the planning but I do remember those Scouts, including Alistair, in their well-pressed uniforms lining the route of the coffin from the lych gate to the church door. I shall never forget the sight of Neil’s coffin next to the Christmas tree and crib scene.

Neil’s university acceptances started coming in after Christmas before his name could be removed from the system. And then the post-mortem. They didn’t know what had caused his death, only that his heart had stopped. The verdict was an open verdict, cause of death unascertained.

CRY didn’t exist in 1992. I only found out about it almost 20 years later when after retiring I needed a charity as President of our local Inner Wheel. There was no doubt in my mind what I wanted to do. I googled “Sudden Adult Death” and CRY came up. It was just what I wanted. It was for young people. I could do something local. How I wish I had known about CRY before. I’m sure they would have helped us through those bleak years when we struggled on without any professional help.

I’m glad I’m involved with CRY. Raising awareness and screening as many young people in our area as possible is my aim. We’ve had seven local screenings since 2014 and I have four booked, for each of the next four years. This has only been possible because of the tremendous support I am getting from the local community. I have made so many new friends who give up their time willingly to fundraise for me and my old friends are always there.

As secretary of our local WI, I have put forward a resolution for a national strategy – so far without success, although it did get to the last eight nationally last year. I am not giving up. I am trying to give as many talks as I can to WI members in different parts of the country. Maybe in a couple of years we can put a WI Resolution to the Government to try and prevent these tragic deaths.