‘Secret killer’: Brother’s heartbreak as sister, 19, dies suddenly in bed

Nick Whigham
·Assistant News Editor
·3-min read

Lauren Mead was a normal, healthy teenager on the cusp of her adult life – and then she died suddenly in her sleep. 

The 19-year-old British woman passed away quietly in her bed in October 2019 after suffering an unexplained cardiac arrest.

Her shocking death was put down to what's often referred to as Sudden Adult Death Syndrome (SADS). 

Lauren Mead is pictured.
Lauren Mead, 19, died suddenly in her sleep in October 2019. Source: BBC

Now, her brother, Patrick, is calling for routine screening of young people for the deadly condition.

The family, from the English town of Frome, have shared their heartbreak in a new BBC documentary called Sudden Death: My Sister's Secret Killer in a bid to raise awareness about the tragic medical anomaly. 

It was a Sunday morning and Patrick was eating breakfast, waiting for his sister who had a shift at a nearby restaurant the siblings worked at. 

Their mother walked upstairs to check on Lauren. It was at that point the family's “world just stopped”.

In a frantic phone call to emergency services, the mother could be heard frantically yelling after she discovered her daughter's lifeless body under the covers. 

"She's blue," she told the operator. "She's gone."

Patrick Mead is pictured.
Her brother, Patrick, is pushing for better awareness around SADS. Source: BBC

Death often the first symptom of SADS

The documentary follows Patrick's process of mourning as he looks for answers to his sister's untimely passing.

“One of the things that makes it so difficult to accept is that it just came out of nowhere," he says.

“We got the coroner's report back and it says SADS. What does that really mean? For me it would just help to know what happened to Lauren so that I can fully process it and come to terms with it a bit more.”

He meets with cardiac-pathologist Professor Mary Sheppard, from the University of London, who believes deaths like Lauren's are under-reported. 

According to the BBC, about 600 SADS deaths are reported in the UK each year. 

Katie Frampton, a specialist cardiac conditions nurse at London’s St George’s Hospital, says often there is no identified cause behind the deaths. 

“It can be [triggered] by certain medications or certain circumstances. Often it happens just randomly, with no prior warning,” she says.

In Australia, where it is typically referred to as Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndrome, statistics are also hard to come by, but it is thought more than 400 people aged 2 to 35 die from a cardiac arrest each year.

According to the SADS Foundation, "more than 4,000 young lives are lost each year to sudden arrhythmia death syndromes (SADS) in the United States".

An inherited cardiac disorder known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) which means the heart muscle is abnormally thickened is often pinpointed as a cause.

A 2004 study in the Medical Journal of Australia looking at sudden heart-related deaths in young people in NSW found two-thirds were due to structural defects, but a startling one third of deaths went unexplained.

Sadly, for many young cases, death is the first symptom that something is wrong.

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