Stuart (aged 25) collapsed and died on the afternoon of Saturday 21st September 2013 while playing football for the second’s team at Islandmagee Football Club.
Up to that point he had been perfectly well and to the best of our knowledge had no symptoms or anything wrong with him that we would have been concerned about.
I was getting into my car to do some small chore when I noticed a missed call from Janet, my wife. I rang her to be told to get to the club as quickly as possible. There was no mention of injury or anything but I just knew it was bad.
When I arrived I parked the car and the first person I met was a young lad walking with tears down his cheeks. Then I met Gerry and Kevin, who were two members of the local first responders present at the time. Gerry said to me, “D – this is not good!”.
By this time Stuart was in the ambulance to be taken to the hospital. Janet, Claire (Stuart’s girlfriend) and my brother Alan were also there.
When Stuart collapsed on the pitch his teammates came to his aid; Noel and Norman started CPR while an ambulance was called by a lad a few years younger than Stuart called Adam. Adam then stayed on the phone to the emergency services and proceeded to call out the rhythm for Noel and Norman to work to. Gerry and Kevin shocked Stuart with a defibrillator, so I know Stuart had a good crack at it with the help at hand immediately.
That gives us reassurance and answers a whole lot of the ‘what ifs?’. For instance, ‘If Stuart had been alone and not received this assistance could he have been saved?’ Claire was with him at the match and when he fell she ran to his side immediately and said he was unresponsive; so it was very quick, and the fact she was with him gives us great comfort. The paramedics and staff at the Mater Hospital did their utmost but to no avail – Stuart’s ‘T.O.D’ was pronounced.
We then had to start to make the phone calls; the first being to our daughter Jennifer (‘Jenny’) in Edinburgh, which was extremely difficult. This was followed by contacting Stuart’s Granny, Aunts and Uncles. Further to this there was a shockwave that went around our small local community. This was so obvious by the look on people’s faces as they came in their hundreds to pay their respects in the weeks to followed.
Our house did not empty for weeks and weeks. I have only witnessed such events a few times. At the forefront of undertaking responsibility for providing food and refreshments were Stuart’s Uncle Sam and one of my colleagues in the Fire Service, Colin. They seemed to take charge of a whole squad of folk who were constantly bringing supplies of food for everyone. We also had the generous help of our neighbour, Judith, who contributed by helping with food but also provided accommodation in her B&B for Janet’s family, many of whom travelled from Italy.
Stuart’s funeral was held the following Friday which was a very emotional event. We all cried and laughed as his friends recalled the antics they had got up to, ones which you normally would never hear about. James and Mark, who are brothers and two of Stuart’s closest friends, had us in fits of laughter at the church as they spoke so courageously during the service. The Reverend Chapman and the other people running the service gave Stuart a lovely send off.
Hundreds of people attended the funeral including Stuart’s teammates. A large number of my colleagues from the ‘N.I.F.R.S’ attended in uniform and stood in a guard of honour, there must have been about a hundred of them! Janet’s colleagues from the Nursing profession did the same.
Grant and the team from Mulholland’s Funeral Service showed great respect and attentiveness in dealing with Stuart’s funeral. Their professionalism and compassion was acknowledged by all who attended. Grant in particular has since shown how much Stuart’s death has shocked him and so many in the community and as such is planning to run an event in the near future that will add to the total generated for CRY in Stuart’s memory. Big Noel has been another star when considering efforts made to keep us all sane and has shown great support throughout. An example of this was the big charity cycle he organised.
Stuart was 25 when he died. His mum Janet and I were 50 years old and Jennifer his sister was 26 when he left us. Stuart’s girlfriend Claire was 22 and the pair of them were having the time of their lives. She had just graduated with a Teaching degree earlier in the year. Stuart worked as an Accountant Technician in Moore Stephens of Larne. Throughout 2013 Stuart had worked hard to pass his Tax examinations and was starting to progress further in his career – which lasted 6 years, during which he had not had a day off sick.
Janet and I had always jokingly threatened to throw Stuart out of the house when he reached 25 years in order to make his own way as he was far too comfy at home with his mum looking after him. Back when Claire arrived, I could foresee him actually going, which left me thinking how much I would miss the ‘oule craic’ we would have. Alongside football and darts, Stuart loved his guitars which would get played nearly every day, something I greatly miss. He loved a good laugh and often we would hear him and Claire in fits at some silly programme on the TV. It was nice to have that young carefree spirit about the house.
Jenny left for Edinburgh at 18 to study at university and has since set up home with her boyfriend Tom in the city centre. I despair that over the last few years Stuart and Jenny were only ever in each other’s company for a few short weeks at a time. However, they had a great meaningful relationship and loved each other dearly.
Stuart’s mum was robbed of seeing him become a husband, father, and all those things that should have happened if life hadn’t dealt us this cruellest of blows. His many friends have lost a good mate who was caring and more than considerate and always had a smile on his face.
We had 25 great years before Stuart; 25 great years with Stuart; and now we will do our best with whatever time we have remaining. We take great comfort from all the support from family and friends; Claire’s lovely family; all the professionals who have helped; and the CRY people who have studied Stuart’s case – which wouldn’t have happened a few short years ago.
Although it has been devastating, we get great comfort from the fact that Stuart didn’t suffer or die alone and we know that he was loved deeply by his family and friends. I can honestly say above anything else that Stuart was a good lad and that makes us proud.