‘I found my healthy son dead in bed at 31 – it’s something I’ll never get over’

Gill Ayling, 59, from North Lancashire had an unbreakable bond with her only son Nathan.

The mum was devastated when she found her son had passed away in bed aged just 31, despite no previous serious health concerns.

It was later discovered his heart was to blame. Every week in the UK at least 12 ‘fit and healthy’ people aged between 14-35, die from undiagnosed Cardiac conditions – with 80% having no symptoms at all.

Gill now works closely with Cardiac Risk in the Young(CRY) to campaign for heart screenings for everyone in the UK, and raise awareness.

This week on Coronation Street James Bailey, played by Nathan Graham, collapses with heart problems. The young character has previously not had any inclinations that he may have issues with the major organ.

Here, Gill shares her heartbreaking story, but also celebrates Nathan's life…

“I knew something wasn't right when my son Nathan was oddly quiet.

We had a very close bond, with Nathan popping round to see me most days. I’d text him at 6:30am to see if he was going to be coming round for tea, and he’d replied pretty quickly to say “yes please, I’ll see you later”, then it was silence.

It was a Monday in February 2019 and he had the day off work so I would have expected more contact. He’d usually be checking up on me, asking what we were going to be eating and if any other family members were going to be there too. I was texting and ringing, but no reply.

Mother’s instinct told me to go check in on him at home to see if he was okay at around 4 o'clock. The dog was barking but it was all locked up, but I tried not to panic. I decided I'd go back in around an hour with my husband and his dad, Steve, to see if he was okay. Within two minutes I was back knocking. There was no answer on the door again.

I climbed into his garden through the neighbour’s house. I walked onto his patio and climbed onto a chair to look through the window of his bungalow, and saw him lying there on his bed. Through my job in the police force I’ve seen many dead bodies, and so I knew instantly he was gone. I felt pure shock. It’s something that I will never get over. I shouted to the neighbour to call an ambulance, who pronounced him dead on the scene.

Before that day I’d never really had health concerns about Nathan.

He was super fit and active taking up a different hobby each month. It was a bit of a running joke that he’d get all the kit for something like weightlifting, rugby, football, fishing and golf then move on to the next thing.

The only inclination we had of the devastation was the fact his sister Becky, who is 21 months younger than him, was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome when she was around 12. This is caused by an extra electrical connection in the heart, which can mean that it beats abnormally fast.

I asked the doctor if they’d screen Nathan’s heart too but because he had no symptoms it wasn’t deemed necessary at the time. That test could have saved his life. Those moments came to the forefront of my mind the moment I saw him laying on his bed.

I was running on adrenaline for the first weeks after his death. When the cause of death came back as cardiac, I got in touch with the charity CRY, who were amazing. They have trained counsellors, who’ve all lost a child themselves through heart problems. I got assigned a lovely woman who called me every Monday at 10 o'clock. I’d laugh, cry and scream while talking to her. I went through all the emotions.

I’m also in their support group for mums who’ve lost children. We have a Facebook page where we all help each other get through the tough days, and occasionally meet up. I don’t think I’d have coped without the charity.

I don't just remember the loss now, I remember what a wonderful young man Nathan was. He was kind, committed to his job as a Manager at a car garage and loved his family more than anything.

He even came on a cruise to Egypt with me and his dad for his 21st birthday – despite going away with his friends a lot, he’d always say that was his best holiday ever.

He adored his niece Florence – regularly giving her cake that he’d fetched for her from the bakery and then telling her not to tell her mum! She’s eight now and still remembers how much Nathan spoiled her.

He was dating to find The One – about four old girlfriends came along to his funeral! He loved life, and dreamt of having a family of his own one day.

That was taken away from him and me.

I want to improve things for future generations, so less mums have to go through the pain that I’ve gone through.

I'm campaigning with CRY to get compulsory heart screenings for everyone aged 14, then if they discover something they can refer you to a hospital which will lead to the right treatment and medication. They already do it in Italy and there’s been a huge decrease in heart-related deaths. We’re also doing educational screenings in the local community, including Nathan’s school and Rotary Club.

I’m happy to see that Coronation Street is covering unexpected heart problems with Jamie’s storyline. I’ll be watching it unfold with a box of tissues next to me. Lucky for Jamie he has people around him, and can be defibrillated after he collapses. A lot of people aren’t so lucky, they are alone like Nathan. This is why we need to focus on prevention.

I will continue to work with the charity to make that happen, and I just hope that Nathan is proud of me."

For more information visit www.c-r-y.org.org.uk and to book a free screening in your local area go to: www.testmyheart.org.uk

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