Our beautiful, vivacious daughter Sarah, whom we cherished and adored, was born on 10th October 1987. She was born breach and four weeks early when my waters broke. We took her home a week later and that night had the worst storms in years.
Sarah celebrated her 22nd birthday in October. She was a legal secretary and had just started a new job in London after being out of work for a year.
Sarah was a very happy child, always laughing and smiling and we called her “Angel”. She loved primary school where she excelled and was a very popular girl with the other children and teachers.
She became the usual hormonal, angry teenager for a while, hating school and the world generally and just wanted to be a grown up. But despite this she was still very popular and made many lifelong friends.
At 16 she left school and started work as an office junior in a solicitor’s office in London and became the beautiful, happy, carefree and fun loving girl we miss.
She loved films, books and music and her favourite colour was pink, the brighter the pink the better. She loved family parties at our house and enjoyed nothing more than singing along to her favourite songs with her cousins using a wooden spoon or beer bottle as a microphone.
Sarah was a loud, funny, scatty blonde and a total drama queen. She screamed if birds, wasps or flies came anywhere near her and had a phobia about clowns. She couldn’t watch any films that were scary or were about spiders or clowns, but loved comedies, chick flicks and Disney films.
She hated sharing, especially with her younger brother Jack, so I had to buy two of everything. She adored her niece Holly (left), who is 18 months old, and couldn’t wait for her to be old enough so that they could watch Disney films and do girly things together.
We had a very special mother and daughter relationship and were also best friends. We went shopping in Bluewater every month and she would spend half her wages on shoes and clothes and I always treated her to lunch.
We spent many nights just the two of us watching a film with a glass of wine. She would text me every day to ask what was for dinner as she loved home cooking and was always hungry. She often rang me on her way home from work to ask if I wanted a quick glass of wine in our local pub.
Occasionally we went out with her friends who always treated me as one the girls and if her dad wasn’t working he would come too. We always had such good fun and they are all lovely girls.
Sarah wanted to work abroad and decided to go to Kos as she went there on holiday the year before and was told she would be given a job if she wanted one.
She left in May with her friend Gemma who had worked there before and who managed to find them a cheap apartment.
I was worried about her being away from home for so long because whenever she went on holiday with her friends she always rang me in tears after a few days as she was missing me so much.
I encouraged her to go so that she could become more independent and not waste an opportunity.
In June she picked up a flu virus and at the same time her wisdom teeth started to come through.
She was prescribed antibiotics by a doctor and also took a mixture of paracetamol for the pain.
She couldn’t work and had no money for rent or food so I decided to fly her back home so that I could take care of her. I sent her ticket via email but she had to borrow money to access the internet.
Her dad met her at the airport and after enduring 10 hours of travel she was so happy to see him she clung to him and cried.
I took her to the hospital the next day as she was very poorly and had lost a lot of weight and I suspected she had swine flu.
We were seen immediately and were told that she had damaged her oesophagus due to taking a combination of tablets.
She gradually got better and after two weeks of receiving lots of TLC and eating good food, she was almost back to normal and decided to go back to Kos to finish the season.
I booked her another flight and we waved her goodbye again at the beginning of July.
Although I missed her terribly I was happy that she was able to follow her dream of working abroad, it was the best time for her to do it as she was single, unemployed and could start afresh when she returned.
She enjoyed herself so much, learned to be independent and described the whole experience as the best time of her life. She also met and fell in love with a lad, Steve, from Hull.
Sarah returned home in late September to attend an interview and Steve travelled down to London every weekend after to be with her. After three weeks Sarah went to meet his family and friends in Hull and then they alternated the weekly visits. Steve decided that he wanted to move to Kent to be near Sarah and started applying for jobs in London.
The last time we saw her was on the Friday morning when she said a cheerful goodbye to me and her dad, “see you on Sunday, love you”, and off she went with her case, she was going to Hull after work that evening. Steve had travelled down the previous day to attend an interview and they were meeting up to get the train together.
On Saturday, Jon and I went out with friends for dinner and I was in a deep sleep when at 3.00am on Sunday morning, 29th November, my mobile phone rang. The number was unknown and thinking it may be a prank call or a wrong number I was reluctant to answer it but some instinct told me I should.
The caller was a doctor from A&E at Hull Royal Infirmary who told me that we should get to the hospital as soon as we could as Sarah had collapsed and had a cardiac arrest. My heart constricted and a fist was clenching it from inside, it was my worst nightmare come true.
In a daze I told Jon what had happened and packed a bag with enough clothes for a few days and we left to start the never ending drive to Hull. All the way through the pitch black, thick fog I kept telling myself that by the time we got there she would be awake and wondering what all the fuss was about.
Sarah and Steve had been at a party and were singing on the karaoke. Sarah had a few drinks and was enjoying herself but then felt a little unwell and went upstairs to lie down. She was found a short while later lying on the floor unconscious and not breathing. A friend tried to resuscitate her whilst an ambulance was called. She was taken to A&E and then transferred to the intensive care unit.
We met Steve and his parents at the hospital and I told them it would be alright. We stayed by her bedside for three days willing her to wake up but she didn’t. We were told she was severely brain damaged and after further tests on 1st December 2009 she was pronounced dead and the life support machines were turned off. The hospital was unsure what had caused a cardiac arrest so an autopsy had to be performed. We made the hard decision to drive back to Kent without her and wait until we could bring her back home.
Four days later the coroner rang to say the pathologist had discovered that her heart was the wrong shape and therefore it had to be sent to the Royal Brompton Hospital in Chelsea to be tested. We decided to donate Sarah’s heart for research and made arrangements to bring her home on the following Monday.
Her funeral was on 16th December, the first day of the heavy snows which was the earliest snowfall in 20 years and lasted around three weeks. She had a baby pink coffin and was taken to the crematorium in a white carriage led by two beautiful white horses. We had five cars, one to lead the procession, which carried the flowers and the other four with the family following the carriage.
Over 400 people attended Sarah’s funeral, we played three of her favourite songs and one that her Dad chose, and two poems were written and read by her cousin Emma and best friend Vicki.
At the end of the service we released 22 pink balloons with her name in her memory. It was a beautiful service but extremely sad and the worst day of my life. We decided that only immediate family should buy flowers and requested that donations be made to the British Heart Foundation.
So far just over £1,200 has been donated on the Justgiving site.
We finally received the results on 26th January 2010. We were told that Sarah had anomalous origin of the left coronary artery from the pulmonary artery (ALCAPA) which is a rare congenital anomaly that is often referred to as Bland-White Garland syndrome. It’s estimated to affect 1/300,000 live births and if left untreated results in a 90% mortality in the first year of life.
We were totally stunned and had no idea or any previous warnings that Sarah had a heart defect. We now have a reason why she died so young and, although it hasn’t taken away the shock or pain, there is some comfort in the fact that we had 22 precious years with her. I’m not sure the pain will ever go away, I have such an empty feeling inside that cannot be filled, but we have such fantastic memories, photographs and videos that will keep her alive in our hearts forever.
I began to research Bland-White Garland Syndrome and realised how rare it is and that it is virtually undetectable. We were given details of CRY by Dr Mary Sheppard at The Royal Brompton Hospital who performed the tests and I discovered that she had received funding to open a CRY Centre at the hospital.
I met with Dr Mary Sheppard on 2nd March (right) and handed her a cheque for £5,000 (a donation given to me by my employer) towards the research into detecting congenital heart defects in young people.
Dr Sheppard will be using Sarah’s case study in lectures to pathologists and students in order that they can identify more quickly congenital heart defects.
The aim of CRY is to decrease the number of unexplained deaths in young people and to have a national screening programme.
I hope that this money will contribute in some way to saving precious lives so that other parents don’t have to go through the agony of losing a child.
Sarah you created a storm when you entered this world and when you left it. We were very privileged and proud to have had you as our daughter and will love you forever.
Songs played at Sarah’s funeral
Whitney Houston – I Will Always Love You
The Foundations – Build Me Up Buttercup
Aretha Franklin – I Say A Little Prayer
Joe Cocker – You Are So Beautiful (chosen by Dad)