A teenage rugby player collapses on the pitch in front of his teammates and supporters. Fit and sporty, he is the person least likely to be thought to be at risk from cardiac death.
Yet every week in the UK, 12 apparently fit and healthy young people die suddenly from a previously undiagnosed heart condition.
In around 80-90% of cases, there will have been no signs, symptoms or warnings.
The young man on the rugby pitch is the focus of a new, hard-hitting campaign to be launched in Parliament by Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY).
A short film to screened for the first time at a Commons awareness event today tracks moments leading up to “fatal” collapse on the rugby pitch.
For CRY, a small charity, the video was something “we could not have contemplated buying”, explains chief executive Alison Cox.
It was developed for CRY by David Lynch, an Assistant Producer at global creative agency BBH London. The campaign was funded by a charitable grant awarded to David through BBH’s internal charitable grant scheme.
“We were approached by BBH, which is a massive international organisation. One of their creative directors was heading up the initiative and he wanted to produces something for CRY as it is had personally impacted on him,” says Cox.
“We are so grateful to BBH for spending so much time creating this film for us, with social media such as YouTube you only have one minute or so, and they have created a very sophisticated and polished message.
“It is a massive opportunity for CTY and a huge step forward.”
Cox stresses that the very young people who could be at risk from cardiac deaths already use social media, making the video a useful way of getting the message out to them.
She says that while CRY has been cautious in how it frames its message about sudden cardiac deaths in young people, “this is a film you can’t walk past”.
“This communicates brilliantly with young people - that is incredible – and there is potential for a really massive hit - and of course with the internet it is international.”
CRY’s national screening programme now tests around 15,000 young people every year and it is estimated that one in 300 young people aged 35 and under who are tested by CRY are found to carry a potentially life threatening condition.
The charity will be 20 years old next year, and screening, educating doctors, parents and young people remains at its core.
“80% have no symptoms and the symptoms they might have their GP very often even a cardiologist will dismiss them,” says Cox.
“The danger is that this group is apparently fit and healthy. This is a very simple appeal – we offer screening and that is the only way to find out. Medics need to wake up and listen.
“We have been training doctors for the last decade.”
On the hard-hitting nature of the video, Cox says: “We hope that we don’t frighten people but have a sensible response.”
Sport itself does not cause young sudden cardiac death but intensive physical activity - particularly endurance sports such as rowing, rugby, football and long distance running - can exacerbate an underlying condition.
Two years ago Sue Dewhirst’s only son Matthew, 17, collapsed and died during rugby training at his school, Ellesmere College.
Since Matthew’s tragic death, Sue has become a loyal supporter and active campaigner for CRY.
“Like so many of the parents and partners who have been so tragically affected by sudden cardiac death, our first question was ‘Why’? How could our extremely fit and healthy boy suddenly go?” she says.
“Year after year he had been passing out on the rugby pitch, only to be told every time by the emergency doctors that it was either stress, migraine or dehydration and that ‘you only had to look at him to know that there was nothing wrong with his heart’.
“Watching this film was really, really tough for my husband Chris and I but I am very proud to be part of this campaign that CRY is driving forward to tackle the issue at grass roots level in sport. Most young people play some kind of sport. These deaths are indiscriminate and to have such a hard hitting initiative is just what we need to ram the message home. Life will never be the same for us again but our thanks go to CRY for giving us this opportunity to achieve something in Matt’s name.”
Cox says CRY decided to launch the video at Parliament because of the wide support the charity has received from MPs. The CRY All Party Parliamentary Group has more than 100 members.
“MPs are fundamental to our project,” she added.
David Lynch from BBH, who wrote and produced new film, said:
“This has been a particularly emotive and rewarding campaign to work on. We are all delighted with the results and are confident that the ad will make an immediate impact on young people, their parents and sports coaches.
“We were inspired to make this film and to work with CRY due to my knowing someone who was helped by the charity. Once we began production, it became clear that so many of the people who helped us had also been affected – or knew someone who had been affected – in some way.
“We know the ad is very high impact but the experts at CRY have gone to great lengths to ensure that their bereaved families have been forewarned about the content. We felt we had a responsibility to make this as ‘realistic’ as possible to ensure CRY’s messages were delivered powerfully and effectively.”