“I lost a boyfriend, his housemates lost a best friend”: Sudden Adult Death Syndrome

Sudden Adult Death Syndrome (SADS) is a genetic heart condition that can cause sudden death in apparently healthy young people. It mostly occurs due to an inherited cardiac condition that is often not diagnosed until one person dies unexpectedly. Katie Harvey-Lam is a UoN student living through the aftermath of losing her boyfriend to SADS. Here she shares her story…

This time last year, I’d finished my last exam and had started my final semester of my Economics degree. I lived with four boys; we’d all lived together at St Peters Court in first year and had become best friends. Then, as predicted from all of the romcoms I have watched, I of course fell in love with one of the boys: Jannik. I would love to say it was love at first sight but the first time I met him, I spoke to him very little and very clearly because I didn’t think he spoke English (he is half Malaysian and shy). We were literally best friends and partners.

“Upon reaching the top of the hill, he fell to the floor”

One night last year I came back from uni to find Jannik had decided to take the day off as a post-exam treat and had played on his PS3 the entire day. Jannik was very studious, a Mechanical Engineering student, so I was proud to hear of his spontaneous behaviour. That evening we watched The Good Wife and planned our upcoming night out at Crisis for a late celebration of my birthday. Feeling slightly guilty for our lazy day, we decided to do some hill sprints in the Park estate.

Jannik and I went with two of our housemates. I let Jannik and our other housemate run ahead. Upon reaching the top of the hill, he fell to the floor. We all thought he’d just tripped, but after a second, when he didn’t try to get up, we knew things were bad. I ran to him and thought he was having a fit. Instead, in that moment, Jannik had suffered a cardiac arrest. The electrical signals that told his heart to beat had malfunctioned and Jannik, like many sportsmen and young people you hear of, died from Sudden Adult Death Syndrome. An ambulance came and he was taken to QMC where they tried to revive him for an hour and a half but he couldn’t be saved.

“I lost a boyfriend, his housemates lost a best friend, his family lost a son and brother, and the uni lost a first class Mechanical Engineer”

Later tests on his family showed that he had an undiagnosed heart condition. He’d had absolutely no symptoms. We now know 12 young people die every week like Jannik did – that’s 624 young people a year. I lost a boyfriend, his housemates lost a best friend, his family lost a son and brother, and the uni lost a first class Mechanical Engineer.

It has been a year now since this has happened. I am not going to talk about the emotional implication of this because no matter what I write, no words will make you understand the heartache. I know this because I often thought about what it would be like to lose Jannik beforehand, and I can tell you now, the pain is incomprehensible. I have told you this not for sympathy but to hopefully make you realise that this doesn’t just happen to other people or in soaps. Jannik was a student at the University of Nottingham. He went to the Portland building for his Boots meal deal, he’d fallen asleep at the bar in Oceana, he’d gone with me to the Savoy cinema, we lived in Lenton, we’d done a Campus 14, he liked Kid Cudi – nothing out of the ordinary, nothing that made his life different to yours or mine. He was just a normal guy and this happened to him.

“Jannik’s undiagnosed heart condition could have been picked up beforehand via an ECG”

The most critical age for a Sudden Adult Death Syndrome to occur is whilst being at university. The only way Jannik’s undiagnosed heart condition would have been picked up beforehand was to have a simple screening test via an ECG. CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young) is a charity that offers free ECG testing to check whether you have an undiagnosed heart condition. You can check their website to see if there is a screening near you – there is one in London every month. I (and the International Olympic Committee & EU Society of Cardiology) particularly urge those involved with competitive sport to have an ECG because, although sport itself doesn’t lead to a cardiac arrest, it can trigger a sudden death by aggravating an undetected cardiac abnormality. You may have heard of the Bolton Wanderers footballer, Fabrice Muamba, who famously died on the pitch but was remarkably saved.

If this does happen to someone you are with, apply CPR immediately – every minute lost before applying CPR decreases the chance of survival by 10% but most importantly of all, call an ambulance and find a defibrillator. Defibrillators are available at all of the sports sites on campus.

I miss my housemate, friend and boyfriend every day. Please get checked.

Click here for more information about screenings.

If you have been affected by issues raised in this article, Student Services offer help and support: click here 

Katie Harvey-Lam

Image: Katie Harvey-Lam

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2 Comments on this post.
  • Ben
    27 February 2016 at 08:35
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    Incredibly strong of you. Well done. I will be getting myself checked as soon as possible

  • Katie H-L
    8 March 2016 at 21:48
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    Thank you so much Ben, that means so much X

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