Sam Richards’ son Toby was keeping up a strict fitness regime in preparation for joining the Royal Marines but died suddenly due to an undetected heart condition
A devastated mum who found her “fit and healthy” son dead on his bedroom floor is desperate for every teen in the country to be screened for heart conditions.
Sam Richards’ son Toby was keeping up a strict fitness regime in preparation for joining the Royal Marines but had an undetected irregular heartbeat when he died in 2019 from sudden arrhythmic death syndrome (SADS).
Around 500 Brits every year die from the syndrome, according to the British Heart Foundation. The diagnosis is made when someone dies unexpectedly from a cardiac arrest but the root cause of the medical event can’t be found. Irregular heartbeats, known as arrhythmias, are caused by problems with the electrical impulses in the heart.
Sam had gone out for lunch one day and after Toby did not answer the phone she had a “really bad feeling” and decided to go round. She continued: “I could see that his breakfast was left out in the kitchen. There was a corridor that led through to his bedroom and his bedroom door was open. I could see him lying on the floor. I said, ‘Toby, what’s going on?’.
“I didn’t know what was going on at that point, I was still taking it all in, but he was naked on the floor with a towel over his head and I could see that the bottom of his feet were slightly red. I lifted the towel up and I knew at that point, he was dead. His lips were really swollen, black and shiny and his eyes were just… he was dead.”
After the police had determined there was no foul play, his family was screened to make sure they also did not have an arrhythmia. Determined to raise awareness and help teenagers get screened, Sam set up TOBE-Heartsafe, a non-profit organisation providing an on-site screening service. The charity also has basic life support training as a core element of its mission.
She said: “In some countries, you cannot have a driving licence without knowing how to do basic lifesaving training. If you came across somebody who had collapsed, and you knew how to administer CPR and you know how to use a defibrillator, it can be lifesaving.
“What our model is is that we are going out to private schools and we’re saying, ‘would you like screening for your children, it would cost this amount of money but you’re also buying a screening for a child in the community who can’t afford it’. We want to roll it out to people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford it, community sports clubs and just places where young people are.”
According to TOBE-Heartsafe, every week in the UK, around 12 young people under the age of 35 die suddenly from a previously undiagnosed heart condition and around 80 per cent of these occur with no prior symptoms.