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Alex might still be alive if he had been screened for heart condition, say family

Alex Parker

Alex Parker with mum Bernadette.

The family of a Derbyshire teenager who died after collapsing in a field say he might still be alive if he had been given vital screening.

Alex Parker, 13, of Castle Gresley, died as a result of a cardiac condition after collapsing at Tunnel Woods in Church Gresley while he was walking his dog on September 20.

His family have been shocked to discover since that his unknown heart condition could have been detected by a simple screening test.

Alex's mum Bernadette, 52, said the news left her "sick to her stomach" and believes the death of her son, who was a pupil at William Allitt School in Newhall, could have been prevented.

She said: "Since Alex died we have been in touch with the Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) charity which has shown us just how common these deaths are. I knew nothing about this before and that Alex has been playing tennis for so long and doing such intense training and he was never screened before.

"When children reach county level in sport they are screened automatically, so what is the difference? When Alex started playing at four and a half years old I registered him on the Lawn Tennis Association website and I did not see any information on there about cardiac risk in the young, despite 12 people a week dying from it."

Bernadette, who is also mum to Hermione, 18, said she would have had the screening done 'without a doubt' if she had known about it.

She said: "The screening is free but even if it cost thousands I would have found the money. You cannot put a price on your child's health. Because there are no symptoms or signs beforehand, screening is essential. This really could happen anywhere, at any time.

"To go out as a healthy young lad and just collapse and die is unimaginable but it happened to us and it could happen to you. Alex wasn't ill. His heart problem was a ticking timebomb waiting to go off. I know that whatever we do it won't bring Alex back but there must be children who are scared stiff of dropping dead despite them being fit and healthy.

"A lot of the children who have this condition die in their sleep, it is terrifying. We want to raise awareness so people can find out the facts, something we never were given the chance to do."

Now the family are hoping to raise awareness in the hope of 'stopping any other parents from going through what we have been through'.

Alex's step-dad Gary Hawkins said: "We want to get the word out to parents to be aware of the consequences.

"I am determined to make it known just how serious this condition is. Twelve children a week die from these underlying heart conditions and that is 12 children a week too many. It needs to be taken to MPs and I will draw up petitions if I have to.

"If it saves one more life that's all we can ask, it might stop some parents having to go through what we have been through, which I would not wish on anybody."

Although the screening is currently offered by CRY to anyone aged between 14 and 35, Alex's family are keen to see the age limit dropped so that children can get it as soon as they start secondary school. Gary, 56, said: "Alex had just turned 13 so he wasn't eligible for it but if he had been screened, it would have found that his heart was irregular.

"They leave it until 14 so most people's hearts are fully developed but we believe that screening need to be offered to children as soon as they start secondary school as they willingly choose to participate in sports and training at that age.

"In this day and age sport is a big career and more children out there want to make it in the sports industry. That was Alex's dream but he will never make it now. He had the potential snatched away from him."

Although condition's such as sudden cardiac death and sudden arrhythmic death syndrome are common in athletes like Alex, those who are not athletic are also at risk and should be screened. Bernadette said: "The screening can be life-saving. If they are screened there is an 89 per cent chance it is found and put right.

"It is a sad thing that this has happened before we got the chance to know about it. For us it is too late but we want to make others sit up and take notice - This is a matter of life and death and it should not be brushed under the carpet. I had never heard of this heart condition before but more than 600 healthy kids a year die from it.

"People are dying needlessly when a service is out there, there is nothing more important than making people aware of this screening service.

"I wasn't given the choice and many other parents who have lost their children and will lose their children have not been given it either. To be honest I am quite angry something should have been in place and this should not have happened.

"It could have been stopped, I know now that there are operations available so it could have been helped. Even if Alex could never pick up another tennis racket in his life, I would do anything for him to come back. It is such a waste of a beautiful life. Alex could have done so much more. We need to take back control in order to save these innocent lives."

An inquest into Alex's death will be held next year. To find out more about screening and when it is available near you, visit www.testmyheart.org.

What is Cardiac Risk in the Young?

Since its formation in 1995, Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) has been working to reduce the frequency of young sudden cardiac death (YSCD). CRY supports young people diagnosed with potentially life-threatening cardiac conditions and offers bereavement support to families affected by YSCD. The charity promotes and develops heart screening programmes and funds medical research and publishes and distributes medical information written by leading cardiologists for the general public.

The aim of the charity is to prevent young sudden cardiac deaths through awareness, screening and research, and supporting affected families.

For further information, visit: www.c-r-y.org.uk/

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Alex Parker

Teenager Alex Parker on the tennis court with his big sister Hermione and in his school uniform.