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Mother who lost sons to SADS urges testing for all athletes

AN Irish mother who lost both her young sons to heart-related illnesses, has urged young men to get their hearts screened so further tragic deaths can be avoided.

Anne Morris, originally from Drumcree in Co Westmeath, made her call following the sudden death of Kilburn Gaels' hurler Cathal Forde last week as he trained with his club.

The 28-year-old, a native of Gort, Co Galway, collapsed on a training pitch at Highgate but was pronounced dead on arrival at the Whittington Hospital in Archway. Mr Forde died of a suspected case of Sudden Adult Death Syndrome (SADS).

"If you're a young man who's active then booking yourself in for heart screening makes complete sense," said Mrs Morris, who now lives in Tilehurst, Berkshire. She added: "In many cases it could help save your life and we're seeing far too many young men dying of heart-related problems when a 25-minute check-up could prevent that."

On September 29, 1989, Mrs Morris's son, Sean, aged 22, died at the wheel of his car from heart failure. A post-mortem revealed a valve in his heart had leaked.

"He was a bubbly active young lad and no one had any notion that there was anything wrong with him whatsoever. On the evening before he died he did complain about some minor pains in his chest and arm but he thought nothing of it. He was an estate agent and he went to work as normal but died suddenly in his car," recalled his mother.

As Mrs Morris and Sean's father, Keith, and his siblings came to terms with their agonising loss, further devastation was to darken their door years later.

Wanting to be sure that what happened to Sean couldn't happen to other members of his family, his brother Andrew and sisters Claire and Joanne went for heart screening.

The tests showed that Andrew, a serving officer with Surrey Police, needed treatment. In September 2009 he was admitted to hospital and underwent open heart surgery to install a replacement heart valve.

Initially his recuperation appeared to go well, bringing some relief to Andrew, his family and his wife Faye, who he'd wed in September 2007.

But in late February 2010 he began to feel unwell and after countless referrals he was eventually diagnosed with an abscess around his heart. He lost his battle for life at the Bristol Royal Infirmary on April 8, 2010 aged 34.

"Had Sean been screened then we would have known something was wrong, though we'll never know if anything could have been done to prevent his death," Mrs Morris told the Irish Independent this week.

"In Andrew's case the screening helped diagnose a problem and had nothing been done he probably would have died earlier than he did."

This week, one of Britain's top heart doctors says he thinks anyone playing sport regularly or leading a particularly active life should be screened for heart defects.

At the moment only top-flight athletes face compulsory testing.

Sanjay Sharma, a professor of cardiology at St George's Hospital in south London, said: "We know that one in 300 young people in the UK have a condition that potentially could cause cardiac arrest. People who exercise intensively are three times at greater risk than people who don't exercise. Everybody should be treated the same."

Following the sudden collapse of Bolton Wanderers' player Fabrice Muamba, the group, Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY), has launched a national campaign to urge the Government to review its current policy on cardiac screening.

Ironically, Mr Muamba had been tested but results did not indicate there was a problem.

Last month, the Cork-based company Heartaid was in London to carry out screening for GAA players based there. The tests, however, dealt with inter-county footballers and hurlers and Mr Forde did not qualify.

It's not known if a test would have indicated a problem for the young Galway engineer but cardiac screening is known to have helped cut down the number of cases of SADS in countries where it's compulsory for young males.

"I would urge all young men, especially those who live an active life, to book an appointment today. It could be the most valuable half-an-hour of your life," said Mrs Morris.

Irish Independent