Dad heartbroken as Sydney schoolboy dies from asthma attack: 'I can't sleep'

De-Young Akowuah already knew what he wanted for his 12th birthday.

It wasn’t until July 28, but he had already picked out a new pair of soccer boots and asked his dad for a trip to the movies and dinner at a restaurant.

It’s an outing that De-Young’s dad, Kwame Akowuah, is determined to do – only his son won’t be by his side.

On Saturday May 14, the popular Year 7 student at John Edmondson High School in Sydney’s west suffered a severe asthma attack and six days later, he died.

“I can’t hold my tears. It’s difficult for me,” Mr Akowuah told Yahoo News Australia.

“Since this guy passed away, I can’t sleep. Because it’s always in my mind from the beginning to the end. I was there and I saw everything.

“It really, really hurt me a lot, that I cannot do anything.”

De-Young smiles for a photo in his school uniform.
De-Young, a fit and healthy 11-year-old, suffered two severe asthma attacks in two days. Source: Supplied

De-Young had moved to Australia from Ghana with his family when he was just nine months old.

Three years ago, his mum travelled back to Ghana for family reasons as Mr Akowuah stayed in Sydney to work as a taxi driver and raise their five children on his own.

Now, the couple are trying desperately to get her back to Sydney for their son’s burial.

‘I can’t breathe’: Boy suffers two severe asthma attacks

De-Young was a fit and active boy who loved soccer and would regularly go on long walks with his dad.

Mr Akowuah always made sure he had his puffer on him, but said the asthma didn’t bother him much, and didn’t prevent him from playing sport. He’d never been to hospital over an attack.

The attack on May 14 sent him to Liverpool Hospital, but early on Sunday morning De-Young was discharged.

At home, he slept until about 1pm and later that afternoon he had dinner.

“And then about one hour after he had dinner, he was sitting in the living room and he comes in saying, ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe’,” Mr Akowuah recalled.

“So I jumped up and looked at him and he’s using the puffer but it’s not helping him. So I grab the puffer, use it, and it’s not working. And all of a sudden I saw him going down. It’s hard to explain to you how he dropped.”

The frantic father pulled his son outside and started performing CPR while his brother called Triple-0.

Neighbours heard the commotion and came over to assist as Mr Akowuah continued giving his son chest compressions.

“The problem was the ambulance, they took too long. It took them 25 to 30 minutes to get here. When they came in they took over from me and one of them told me, ‘it doesn’t look good’.”

De-Young was a popular Year 7 student at John Edmondson High School. Source: Supplied

At Liverpool Hospital, Mr Akowuah was in the room while doctors worked relentlessly to save De-Young’s life.

At one point they managed to resuscitate him, with Mr Akowuah recalling how one doctor exclaimed: “Yes, we got him back!”

But they realised De-Young had a massive build-up of carbon dioxide in his lungs that needed to be removed.

He was transferred to Randwick Hospital, and then on to Westmead, where doctors did a brain scan and confirmed the tragic news that De-Young was completely brain dead.

He was put on life support, and Mr Akowuah prayed for a miracle.

“Tuesday there was no difference, Wednesday there was no difference. On the Thursday, the doctors met me again and told me, ‘it’s too late, there’s not much we can do, so think about turning the life support off’,” he said.

Six days after the first attack, Mr Akowuah showered his son, cut his hair and clipped his nails and said goodbye.

‘If it takes a village to raise a child; it takes a village to mourn one’

As a taxi driver, Mr Akowuah has been struggling with ongoing work since the pandemic, leaving him worried about the expenses of his son’s funeral.

Alongside inconsistent work, Mr Akowuah's landlord has sold their house and they're being forced to find a new home.

But caring neighbours, who rushed to help when De-Young was experiencing the attack, set up a GoFundMe page to help the family with the funeral cost.

Tracey Lynch, who lives three doors down from the Akowuahs and started the fundraiser, was among several neighbours who helped to watch De-Young’s siblings while he and his father were at the hospital.

“I figure if it takes a village to raise a child; it takes a village to mourn one,” Ms Lynch told Yahoo News Australia when asked why she decided to start the GoFundMe.

“So for Kwame, a loving, hardworking father of five beautiful, respectful and loving children, to have to do this alone, all while desperately trying to also raise funds to get his wife home from Ghana to be by their side, I couldn’t not help.”

Mr Akowuah said he’s still in disbelief over the love and support he’s received from his neighbours, many of whom were strangers to him a few short weeks ago.

“I didn’t know that I had very good neighbours like this. All of them came out to give their support. I couldn’t believe it honestly,” he said.

“It’s shocking to me, even now they’re still popping in. I can’t believe it. I’m very happy to have them around me.”

To support the Akowuah family, go to the Gofundme page.

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