A Teesside mum who’s determined to keep alive the memory of the 16-year-old son who died in his sleep has kicked off the first of thousands of heart screenings she plans to organise across Teesside.
Despite appearing fit and healthy, Harry Potter fan James Campbell died in his sleep as the result of an undiagnosed heart condition during an outward bound expedition in 2013.
Heart-broken mum Karen vowed to do some good in his memory and, after being introduced to charity Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY), she set up a fund to carry out free heart screenings on as many young Teessiders as possible.
In the UK it’s estimated that an average of 12 young people a week die from young sudden cardiac death.
Karen, a teaching assistant at Macmillan Academy in Middlesbrough, launched The James Campbell Memorial Fund after £1,000 was raised at her son’s funeral and has continued to fundraise over the past three-and-a-half years.
The first screenings by CRY took place at the Resource Centre on Meath Street in Middlesbrough last weekend, with around 200 young people attending over the weekend.
Screening involves a painless, non-invasive examination of the heart using an ECG (electrocardiograph) and, if necessary, an echo-cardiogram.
There are seven types of heart defect that can be detected via the very simple screening method, picking up a potentially life-threatening heart condition in about one in 300 young people.
Karen admitted: “It was very emotional. I did feel James was there with us. He was only 16 when he died but he had a good, kind heart and I think he would have thought doing such an amazing thing would have been the best thing that could have come from him dying.
“I can’t help think that James and everyone who loved him missed out because we didn’t know about CRY and the work they do. If we had, he’d have been tested and we’d have found out about the heart defect he had.
“Some of his school pals turned up at the weekend, which must have been hard for them. Some of them were on the trip with him when he died.
“Other people travelled from as far afield as Northumberland to take part because there are no similar screening sessions available anywhere else in the North East.”
And there was drama when a female passer-by called in complaining of chest pains and a severe headache.
Karen said: “The lady was in danger of passing out and was eventually taken to James Cook Hospital. If the only reason we were there was to help that lady then my job was done.”
Along with a doctor and specialist from CRY, Karen was supported in organising the screening sessions by mum June, brother Paul and sister-in-law Carole, together with 11-year-old nephew Oliver, while she thanked the Resource Centre for their support.
Screening young people aged 14-35 currently costs James' fund £35 per person but, with the help of many others, Karen has raised £14,000, sufficient funds to screen 400 young people in the town.
The next screening sessions have been set up for April 11-12 during the Easter holidays at James’ former school Macmillan. Although fully booked, Karen is urging others to add their name to a reserve list to replace anyone who fails to keep their appointment.
And she’s now looking to raise more cash to enable CRY to hold more sessions at the Resource Centre on May 20-21.
Karen, who lives in Linthorpe with sales manager husband Stephen and son Adam, 16, said: “It’s fitting that we’re holding the sessions at Macmillan because the school, its staff and pupils have been instrumental in the fundraising in James’ memory. They’ve been amazing.
“Teenagers think they’re indestructible, they think it will never happen to them, but if these screenings make a difference to even one family then that will make it all worthwhile. I would love for James to be remembered for saving even one life after his death but hopefully we can save many more.”
“This is just my way of paying tribute to James – he deserves it. At some point in his life he’d have been making a difference, so it’s not surprising he’s doing even after his death.”