‘Sudden cardiac death’ in young people focus of Heart Foundation research fundraiser

Woman researcher in a laboratory holding a flask
This week, three Australians under the age of 35 will die from sudden cardiac arrest, where the heart simply stops beating. The young victims typically will have no warning signs and in many instances are otherwise fit and healthy. It occurs unexpectedly, leaving devastated family members in shock. This September, sudden cardiac death in under-35s is the Heart Foundation’s focus for its annual fundraiser, Give with Heart Day.

Nathan Duncan was a healthy, sports-mad teenager with no apparent health concerns. In November 2010 he told his mum Tania that he was going to meet his mates and would pick up his younger brother Jake from high school on the way. A bunch of buddies were playing touch footy, and Nathan joined the game. He soon scored a try, high-fived his teammates … and suddenly collapsed.

His friends attempted CPR and called an ambulance. At about 6.30pm, Tania got a panicked call from the boys from the hospital.

“They said something had happened to Nathan, and I said I’d be there ASAP,” said Tania.

When she and her husband Paul got to the hospital, they were told that Nathan had died. He was a month away from turning 19.

“My headspace at the time was, why? I couldn’t understand. He was such a healthy young boy.”

The autopsy produced little comfort, with “cardiomyopathy sudden death” recorded. But since Nathan’s death, the family has been part of research exploring genetic links and screening with the focus on younger brother Jake, who is now 24.

“It’s been difficult for Jake,” said Tania. “He thinks that one day, maybe it will happen to him.”

The Heart Foundation’s General Manager of Heart Health Bill Stavreski said that sudden cardiac death in the young, though not as common as other heart health issues, has a particularly traumatic effect on the victim’s family because it is so unexpected.

“Research is vital in helping us better predict who is at risk, and to understand the causes of sudden cardiac death. Research can also contribute towards better management of cardiac conditions,” said Mr Stavreski.

The Heart Foundation relies on donations from the community, with close to 80% of funding coming from everyday Australians.

“In September we’re once again running our annual Give with Heart Day, with the aim of raising $3.5 million to fund life-changing research into heart disease,” said Mr Stavreski.

While the fundraiser officially runs until 20 September, 18 September is the big giving day, with Heart Foundation staff all around the country calling supporters through a telethon to ask for donations.

“Every dollar donated on the day will be quadrupled by other generous donors. So a gift of $100 means $400 in total going towards heart health research. Your donation helps researchers get one step closer to beating conditions like sudden cardiac death,” said Mr Stavreski.

The information that has come from research has allayed many of Jake’s fears and has brought some closure to the rest of the Duncan family.

To make a donation on Give with Heart Day visit www.givewithheartday.com

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