Monday 17 December 2018

'I didn't realise he was dying' - the day I lost my fiance on trip of a lifetime

Shannon and Sean pictured on the Great Wall of China (Photo supplied)
Shannon and Sean pictured on the Great Wall of China (Photo supplied)
Shannon and Sean pictured on the Great Wall of China (Photo supplied)
Sean, from Australia, lived in Galway working as a chef in Eddie Rockets (Photo supplied)
Shannon is now a separated mum-of-three (Photo supplied)
Shannon, originally from California, and Sean, who was from Australia (Photo supplied)
Shannon and Sean knew each other for four years before the tragedy (Photo supplied)
Shannon and Sean pictured on The Bund, Shanghai (Photo supplied)
Amy Molloy

Amy Molloy

A woman has told of how her fiancé died in front of her after he was stung by a deadly jellyfish during a trip of a lifetime.

Marine biologist and writer Shannon Leone Fowler was in the sea with her other half Australian Sean Reilly when he suddenly dropped her and tried to swim to the beach.

The couple, who had known each other for four years, were holidaying on the island of Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand when tragedy struck.

Speaking to Independent.ie, Shannon said she has had survivor's guilt since Sean's death in 2002.

Sean, from Australia, lived in Galway working as a chef in Eddie Rockets (Photo supplied)
Sean, from Australia, lived in Galway working as a chef in Eddie Rockets (Photo supplied)

The now mum-of-three, who was 28 at the time of Sean's death, said the Thai authorities attempted to pass off the incident as a drunk-drowning so as not to affect their tourism.

"I don’t know if I’ll be able to go back to Thailand," Shannon said.

Shannon and Sean pictured on the Great Wall of China (Photo supplied)
Shannon and Sean pictured on the Great Wall of China (Photo supplied)

"I’ve had periods in my life where I would like to go back and periods where I don’t.

"I know the chances of something happening again is very small but I don’t know if I would be able to relax.

"There was no ambulance the day Sean died.

"Sometimes I wonder if he would still be alive if he had been stung in Australia.

Shannon is now a separated mum-of-three (Photo supplied)
Shannon is now a separated mum-of-three (Photo supplied)

"He would have needed anti-venom medication right away and they have that in Australia so maybe he would have lived, but we’ll never know."

Shannon is still asking questions about how many jellyfish stings are truthfully recorded.

Shannon, originally from California, and Sean, who was from Australia (Photo supplied)
Shannon, originally from California, and Sean, who was from Australia (Photo supplied)

“What I found more difficult than the lack of medical infrastructure was the attempt by Thai authorities to cover up his death so it wouldn’t affect their tourism. They tried to pass it off as a drunk drowning.

“We travelled through a lot of dodgy places together but I didn’t think Thailand was one of them.

"There has been six confirmed fatalities from jellyfish stings since Sean’s death but I have no doubt in my mind that there was many more."

The California woman, who has lived in Galway for a number of years, said writing a book has helped her come to terms with her grief.

Shannon and Sean knew each other for four years before the tragedy (Photo supplied)
Shannon and Sean knew each other for four years before the tragedy (Photo supplied)

"I have had survivor’s guilt at not being able to save him ever since he died.

"Putting that down on a page helped me accept there was probably nothing I could have done.

"Getting it down on paper helps you look at it from a distance," she continued.

Shannon and Sean pictured on The Bund, Shanghai (Photo supplied)
Shannon and Sean pictured on The Bund, Shanghai (Photo supplied)
Shannon and Sean pictured in China during their travels (Photo supplied)
Shannon and Sean pictured in China during their travels (Photo supplied)

"The book really changed the way I felt about love, the way I felt about Sean’s family and the way I felt about life."

In the book 'Traveling with Ghosts', Shannon describes how she "didn't realise [Sean] was dying" and rushed to put on her clothes before calling at a nearby crowd to call for medical help.

A young backpacker began to compress Sean's chest, before a truck reversed onto the beach to bring him to a nearby medical centre.

Two young Israeli girls helped Shannon at the centre after the doctor confirmed his death. They also insisted all the paperwork was translated, something now Shannon says she will be forever-grateful.

"I also let out a lot of anger at the world through writing the book. It made me appreciate the Israeli girls who were on the beach that day.

"What they did continues to astound me, especially since they were only 21-year-old girls," she said.

The well-travelled couple also had connections to Ireland. Sean lived in Galway, working in Eddie Rockets as a chef, and Shannon has ancestors on both of her parents' sides in Cork.

"Sean loved Ireland and had relations there," Shannon said.

"My parents honeymooned in Ireland and that is where my name actually came from - they flew in and out of Shannon Airport and travelled down the west coast to places like Dingle.

“My brother’s name is Ryan, so we have good old Irish-American names.

"I lived in Galway - like a lot of Americans I feel an affiliation to Ireland. I absolutely love Galway," she continued.

"I lived there during the Celtic Tiger years and it was such a great time to be there. People were loving life, they were happy and it was a really optimistic time in Ireland.

"It’s the one country where I travelled alone that I felt safe as a woman. A lot of places I visited alone, I would have preferred to be a man.

"I hitch-hiked all over Ireland and sometimes I didn’t even have to put out my thumb. People were so friendly.

"I know bad things can happen anywhere, especially after my experiences, but it’s a place I always felt safe," she added.

Finally, Shannon spoke of how she returned to the sea, exactly one year after Sean's death.

"When I tried to get in, I felt nauseous, I felt shaky.

"I thought it would be this big cinematic moment but I just went into the water, walked back out and nothing felt any different.

"I certainly notice the darkness of the ocean a lot more since Sean’s death," she added.

'Traveling With Ghosts' by Shannon Leone Fowler is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson

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