A MANCHESTER family is determined to raise awareness of sudden death syndrome among young adults after losing their son to an undetected heart condition last year.
Michael Brennan should have turned 22 this weekend.
Instead his family are hosting a fundraising event in his memory at St Kentigern’s Irish Club.
The young man – who they describe as a “unique, caring lad, who would have helped anyone” – had just completed a degree at Manchester University and celebrated his 21st birthday on June 15 when he died on July 18, 2014.
His shock death sent ripples throughout the Irish community in Manchester and his Heaton Chapel family, whose roots lie in counties Wicklow, Leitrim and Mayo.
“It’s still hard to deal with the fact that Michael is no longer here,” his sister Stephanie O’Connor told The Irish Post today.
“He was my younger brother, he had just turned 21 and for about a month before it happened he was experiencing these little seizures when he lay down,” she explained.
“He was awake and his body would shake when he lay flat, but we didn’t know what it was.
“Michael went to the GP who sent him for a MRI scan, which came back fine, and he was then diagnosed with sleep apnoea. But one day, not long after, when we went into Michael’s room we found him dead in the bed. We tried to give him CPR, as mum is a trained nurse, but he didn’t respond at all.”
The Brennan family would later learn that Michael’s death was due to Sudden Adult Death Syndrome related to Cardiac Risk in the Young.
Over the year that has since passed, while mourning the loss of their brother, his five siblings have devoted their time to finding out how other such deaths might be avoided.
“Once we were told the condition that caused Michael’s death, which basically made his heart stop, we were all screened for the defective gene, but none of us has it,” Ms O’Connor said.
“When we continued to look into the disorder we found that 14 young people die of this in Britain each week and while we were told there are no symptoms for it, it turns out there might be.”
She added: “It’s very hard to realise, in hindsight, that there may have been some way of stopping what happened to Michael, with early detection, but we just can’t dwell on that.
“Instead we, as a family, are now determined to get that message out there and raise awareness about the condition and the fact that, while not everyone has symptoms, some people do, and you can get checked out and actually maintain a normal life with medication or the use of a pacemaker or defibrillator.”
In order to carry out that work the Brennan family has launched the Michael’s Way not-for-profit organisation, under which they will go out to schools and local GP surgeries across Manchester to raise awareness of Sudden Adult Death Syndrome related to Cardiac Risk in the Young.
They are also raising money to purchase a machine which will help local NHS services detect the genetic defect responsible for the condition.
“We never knew Michael had any issue, nor that it was a life-threatening one, but we cannot get angry about that,” Ms O’Connor admits.
“We have to have something good come out of this for others,” she added.
“We just want Michael to be remembered for his cheeky smile and all the good he did in his life. He never did badly to anyone, he was a great lad, and I know everybody says that, but he really was.
“Michael was unique, he had a pure heart of gold and only the best are taken young – that’s they way we see it.”
The Michael’s Way fundraiser, with music by Joe Casserley and The Last Drop, takes place at St Kentigern’s Irish Club in Fallowfield tomorrow (Saturday, June 13) from 7.30pm.
Tickets cost £7 on the door.