'The nurse gave me his boots standing at the foot of the bed'- mum of GAA player who tragically died six months after collapsing on the pitch
The parents of Kevin King, the gifted young GAA player who died after collapsing suddenly during an indoor football game, said they believe God had a plan for their "gift of a son".
Kevin died from an extraordinarily rare and fatal heart condition called myocardial fibrosis, just six months after he collapsed playing football for his beloved Slaughtmanus GAA team in Derry.
Since May, he had been undergoing extensive medical tests and had been under the care of Dr McNeill - a leading cardiologist - but the condition is notoriously difficult to detect, and sadly only showed up after a post-mortem examination.
Kevin's parents, John and Margaret, think a second MRI scan - which Kevin was due to have last Wednesday, the day after his funeral - might have detected the condition, bringing news their son would have found very hard to accept.
John and Margaret, along with Kevin's brother, Martin, recalled the son and brother who filled their lives with love, kindness and joy - and touched the lives of so many other people.
They also paid tribute to the medical team that fought so hard to save his life.
Kevin's father John said: "I knew the minute I saw Kevin, he was gone.
"I knelt down beside him and was holding him and talking to him, but I knew Kevin was gone.
"It was a sight that no father or mother ever wants to see. God had another plan for Kevin, and it wasn't going to be here on Earth.
"We had 22 years of a gift from God and, as our priest Fr Mc Dermott said, 'You don't know the day or the hour', and that has been so clear in my head since Kevin passed away.
"I remember a saying my grandfather had when we were young - 'you never know when you put on your shoes in the morning who is going to take them off in the evening'. That resonated with me after Kevin passed away, when the nurse gave me Kevin's boots standing at the foot of a hospital bed.
"When you watch 10 or 12 doctors doing CPR, it is a comfort now to know they never gave up.
"They didn't want to lose him. It was humbling to be his Dad, it was humbling to see how many people that young man affected in his 22 years.
"Fr McDermott was with us in A&E and he gave Kevin the Last Rites. He had known Kevin all his life and has been a constant comfort to us since."
Kevin was described by Parish Priest Fr Noel McDermott during Requiem Mass as a young man "gifted with a kindly, thoughtful nature" and "gifted with good looks and amazing skill as a footballer."
It has only been in the days since Kevin passed away that his parents have come to realise how many other people from so many different walks in life were touched by this gifted young man during his 22 years.
Kevin's mother, Margaret, explained: "We never realised how many people loved our son or held him at the level of regard they did.
"To us, he was our son, but outside he was a friend to so many, a comedian who took a hand, had a laugh, but we have only now got to know how outstanding he was to others as well.
"We just want to thank the whole community, far and near, for the way they turned out for us since Kevin died.
"There are two books of condolence that were opened in the GAA hall which we have - but we are too sore yet to read them.
"Things are too raw now, but we will read them when the time comes - and we are grateful for them.
"We will never forget the St Mary's GAA for everything they have done and the whole community for everything they have done. It was unbelievable and we will never get over it.
"We have had Mass Cards from people in New Zealand, there have been candles lit for Kevin in Fatima as well as all the people who came here from all over Ireland."
Kevin worked in the medical supplies department for Altnagelvin Hospital and was a popular figure on the wards, but it was on the GAA field that he was happiest. There, or behind the wheel of a tractor, helping out his uncles on the farm.
He had his life mapped out - he was a dedicated homebird and had no plans to stray too far away for even a short time.
In the days since he died, his parents are taking comfort from signs that he is still close by.
Margaret explained: "I prayed to Kevin the day of his funeral before we left the house that we would get the strength to get through the day, and he did help me for sure.
"On Tuesday morning I said to Kevin, 'Will you always make contact with me at some time during the day?' And every day since that a robin appears at the kitchen looking in the window at around 4pm - the time I asked.
"In fact, as I am talking to you, a robin has just landed on the post outside and is looking in the window."
John continued: "On the morning of Kevin's funeral, when we were down in the room with Kevin, Margaret had asked him for a sign that he was still about.
"As soon as we came back, Margaret's sister found an oak leaf lying on the kitchen floor, which had been swept clean before we left.
"The oak leaf is the symbol of Derry GAA, and there was no way for that leaf to get inside the house, so we know he is still close to us."
Thursday, November 3, was a day that began like any other - but by the time nightfall came, Kevin's parents and brother found themselves in the midst of a nightmare.
Martin, who is a doctor, arrived at A&E a short time later - but like his parents he had a sixth sense about the seriousness of the situation.
He said: "I knew the whole way to Altnagelvin by the way people were talking to me, even though they weren't telling me the full story. I knew when I heard the defibrillator in the resuscitation area.
"The consultant that was leading the team in A&E came up to me and just looked at me and I knew. But I didn't want to say to ma and da.
"Kevin had everyone possible in that room working with him, including Dr McNeill and other consultants that he contacted.
"Kevin had myocardial fibrosis, which is so rare that when the coroner rang to tell us what he had found I had to stop him because - from what I know about the condition - you can't really screen for it.
"If anyone had said to Kevin, 'You have myocardial fibrosis, it's a death sentence if you don't get a heart transplant', Kevin couldn't have coped.
"For him to know about that would have been a disaster for him.
"The fight to save him went on for two-and-a-half hours, non-stop from when Ryan McGee started CPR until 10.25pm. We couldn't begin to thank them, but at the end we knew it was impossible and they had to stop."
In hindsight, looking back over the six months that have passed since Kevin first collapsed, his family suspects he might have had an inkling of how ill he really was.
His mother recalled: "From the time Kevin collapsed in May, there was a change in him.
"He was worried about his health, and as a mother I have been mentally stressed about him too - something I tried to hide from him, but he knew.
"Me and John had both prayed to St Martin that Kevin would get good news from his MRI scan and that he would be content and deal with it as best he could.
"We finished our Novenas on Tuesday and Kevin died on the Thursday, which was the Feast of St Martin.
"I think Kevin was just too good for this world."
Kevin's brother added: "The way that Kevin behaved here at home wasn't usual for him.
"It was as if he was leaving things ready. He sent me a text to say he had installed Sky for mammy because she was always working and would now be able to record her programmes.
"We went to see a film two nights before he died - which wasn't usual because I work away so much - and we only just found out that he cancelled private health insurance two weeks before he died.
"Kevin was a deep thinker - he analysed everything. Looking back now, we think he knew he was going to die, so at least on some level he must have been aware of it.
"Growing up, we were close, but we did fall out too, like all brothers do. But Kevin hated it if you fell out with him and in no time at all he would come and say, 'Why are you not speaking to me?'"
This kind-hearted nature was just one of the many traits that marked Kevin's personality, but he was just as well-known for his dashing good looks, as his father recalls.
"Kevin was very good-looking and he was well aware of the fact," he said. "He took great care over his appearance and you couldn't get him out of the bathroom if he was going out for a night.
"Kevin never really took a drink - he had other priorities that we were only made aware of listening to stories during the wake.
"Kevin worked in the stores department of the hospital, and he was very popular with the girls of all ages. They would make excuses to come to the stores just to get a look at him.
"That's how he was away from here, and we are comforted that he meant so much to so many. But for us, he will always be the gift from God we had for a short time - and we are all grateful for having him in our lives at all."