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My son died suddenly like Stephen Gately

The mother of a young footballer who collapsed and died while playing a match earlier this year has spoken for the first time about her shock and despair.

Joan McGuinness was prompted by the tragic death of Boyzone star Stephen Gately to speak publicly for the first time about the death of her 16-year-old son Oisin in Newry.

Oisin, a fifth year pupil at Abbey Grammar School in Newry, collapsed while playing soccer on March 14. His parents were left devastated by the loss of their only son who was sports mad and known as a talented soccer player and hurler.

Ms McGuinness said she thought it was “appalling” that it takes the death of a celebrity like Stephen Gately to raise awareness of the issue of sudden deaths in apparently fit, young people.

The Dublin singer was found dead at his Majorca home earlier this month. A post-mortem found he had suffered a pulmonary oedema, an accumulation of fluid on the lungs caused by heart failure.

Oisin's death echoed that of Tyrone GAA star Cormac McAnallen whose mother has called for a cardiac screening programme from the age of 11 or 12 years. Cormac died suddenly from an undiagnosed heart condition — Sudden Adult Death Syndrome (SADS) — at the age of 24. This is a mysterious adult version of cot death syndrome which often strikes active and athletic people between the ages of 15 and 35.

Oisin's heartbroken mum now campaigns to raise awareness of SADS which she said needed to be “taken on and tackled sooner rather than later” by health authorities.

“There are more and more lost lives, more lost years and more devastation for the families with every case you hear. Yet it only seems to be when it happens to someone famous that it is thrust into the limelight again,” she said.

Fighting back tears, Ms McGuinness recalled how her young son “went out to play football and didn’t come back”.

“Apart from mild asthma he was really fit and healthy and so energetic,” she said.

“He was such a popular boy with such a love for life. Sport was his life, if he wasn’t playing football he was playing tennis or hurling.

“We had no idea if he was feeling any of the so-called symptoms, he probably wouldn’t have said anything if he did, he was such a wee hardy boy. It’s something we will never know. It just came as such a bolt from the blue.”

Since her son’s death, Ms McGuinness has been avidly involved in fundraising and raising awareness of SADS, along with the Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) group and The Cormac Trust, founded in memory of Cormac McAnallen. She has been working with the Ashley Jolly SAD Trust, a charity that helps to prevent premature loss of life and to improve the lives of those adversely affected by cardiac arrhythmia.

With the money raised by the McGuinness family, a defibrillator has been put into Oisin’s school and both his soccer and gaelic clubs. Ms McGuinness believes that if this even saves one life, it will all be worthwhile.

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Oisin McGuinness was not the first young person in Northern Ireland to die suddenly and unexpectedly in recent years.

  • Cormac McAnallen (24), Tyrone’s GAA football team captain, was found dead in his bed in March 2004. Had played gaelic for most of his life and was described as a “great athlete”.
  • John McCall (18), from Armagh, was one of the most promising young rugby players in Ireland. He collapsed and died while playing for the Ireland under-19 team against New Zealand in Durban, South Africa, in March 2004.
  • Aaron Lundy (19), from Portstewart, left work at 10am and went to play football but never came home. Aaron was a keen footballer and a hugely talented golfer.The 19-year-old was one of the country's brightest golfing talents and had represented Ulster.
  • Catherine Hand (20), from Lurgan, was a sales assistant who was very physically active and exercised a lot. She died in her sleep and had previously suffered blackouts and palpitations.
  • Stephen Lyness (18), from Portadown, died on his 18th birthday in December 2004. He played soccer and was very active throughout his life. A disease that causes unexpected cardiac death runs in his family.
  • Ciara Agnew (14), from Derriaghy, was a pupil at St Dominic’s High School, Belfast. She loved playing music and enjoyed swimming and netball. In February 2002 she was on the bus home from school when she collapsed on the seat suddenly and died.

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