BEN Fitzgerald’s fiancee Emma died suddenly from cardiac arrest while on a camping trip with their sons Aneurin, seven, and Finn, five.
Here, Ben opens up about the pain of Emma’s death as he should’ve been planning a wedding, not a funeral.
“As I watched my fiancée Emma head out across the field of the Welsh campsite with our two sons, she turned back and gave me a huge smile. But minutes after they disappeared from view, I heard a voice I didn’t recognise screaming my name. I rushed to find Emma collapsed on the grass with people around her. She wasn’t breathing and I didn’t know what to do. It all happened in just a few seconds, but it felt like a lifetime.
Emma and I got together in 2004 after meeting while working as teaching assistants at Beechwood College in Barry. Everyone says it about the person they love, but Emma was perfect – kind and compassionate, fiery and fiercely loyal.
She lived for the outdoors and in those early years together, we loved nothing more than going for long walks on our local beach.
Six months later, we moved into a rental property minutes from the sea, along with her son Christopher, then three. It was perfect. Both of us were keen to add to our family and in 2011 we had our son Aneurin, followed two years later by his brother Finn. I proposed on Christmas Day 2011 – nine months after Aneurin was born – hiding the ring inside a present.
Emma loved being a mum and juggled her work as a teaching assistant with looking after the boys. She was always on the go, taking them out for walks or looking for hidden treasure on the beach. She was diagnosed with an overactive thyroid in 2014 and was prescribed medication, but otherwise she was fit and healthy. Our busy life got in the way of us setting a wedding date, until eventually we settled on August 31, 2018.
A few weeks before the wedding, we set off on our traditional summer holiday to our favourite campsite in Pembrokeshire. Christopher, who was then 18, decided to stay at home.
It was on the fourth day of the holiday that Emma got up around 8am to take the boys for a walk. Five minutes later she collapsed. I remember a stranger doing CPR on her while someone else called an ambulance. Another couple quickly took the boys to their tent so they couldn’t see what was happening.
All I could do was stand there shaking. The ambulance rushed Emma to the hospital in Haverfordwest, while I followed in the car. By then, I’d called Emma’s mum Sandra who was on her way to the campsite to pick up the boys.
At the hospital, medics tried for two hours to save Emma’s life, before telling me there was nothing more they could do. She was just 35. It felt like a bad dream and I was physically sick. That night, I sat Aneurin, Finn and Christopher down and told them their mum had died. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.
While Aneurin and Christopher were heartbroken, Finn, who is on the autistic spectrum, was very angry and found the news difficult to process. I felt hopeless. Emma and I were supposed to be getting married, but now I was organising her funeral.
The day we laid Emma to rest was the toughest of my life. The boys asked that we had a children’s choir sing A Million Dreams from The Greatest Showman.
The post mortem revealed that Emma had died from a sudden cardiac arrest. Her dad died suddenly of a heart attack in his 30s too, but there was nothing to suggest it was genetic. However, the boys have now been tested for any possible genetic heart defects and, thankfully, they’re fine.
What are the symptoms of cardiac arrest?
Cardiac arrest is when the heart suddnely stops beating.
Signs and symptoms suggesting a person has gone into cardiac arrest include:
- they appear not to be breathing
- they’re not moving
- they don’t respond to any stimulation, such as being touched or spoken to
If you think somebody has gone into cardiac arrest and you don’t have access to an automated external defibrillator (AED), you should perform chest compressions, as this can help restart the heart.
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In the weeks and months that followed Emma’s death, I felt numb and the boys and I clung to each other. Now, almost a year on, it’s still very raw, but we’re doing our best to put one foot in front of the other. I’ve had trouble sleeping, I get flashbacks and at the start of the year I was diagnosed with PTSD. Accessing counselling isn’t that easy, and we’re all currently on an NHS waiting list.
Soon after Emma died, we put together a memory box of her things, such as her jewellery and favourite perfume. We keep the box in the kitchen so we can all open it whenever we want. I wrote a note that I put on the fridge with three little rules: smile, praise, and love. Christopher and I are closer than ever and I’m so proud of him.
There are days when it physically hurts, when I’m not sure I’ll ever feel normal again, but losing Emma has made me realise how important it is to live in the moment and cherish every second of every day.”
- For information, visit Sads.org.uk
Sudden arrhythmic death syndrome (SADS) affects around 500 people in the UK every year.*
Visit the Cardiac Risk in the Young website at C-r-y.org.uk for support and information.
Source: *Cardiac Risk In The Young