‘First, our kids had heart transplants, then my husband collapsed unexpectedly’

‘First, our kids had heart transplants, then my husband collapsed unexpectedly’

Malcolm suffered a heart attack – just four weeks after his daughter came home from hospital

A blood-curdling shriek broke the peace of Emma Hall’s home on a normal Saturday afternoon. She was watching TV with her husband Malcolm when she noticed him slumped over on the sofa. He was dead an hour later.

Emma’s screams drew her teenage son’s attention to the horror unfolding in the living room. In horror, he watched as she frantically dialed 999. Malcolm, 52, was rushed to the hospital, but he died there. The father of two had disappeared.

“It was so out of the blue and such a shock that even now I don’t know how much I’ve processed myself,” Emma, from Bredbury, Stockport, told the Manchester Evening News.

“Poor James heard me screaming on the phone and walked in on it. I think that’s something he will never get out of his mind.

“I’ve never been a single mother. I and Malcolm would have been married 17 years this year. I was only 19 when I met him – it was all I’ve ever known.”

Malcolm died of a heart attack in March 2019. The incident happened just one year after his children, James and Elizabeth, both received heart transplants. Emma, a caretaker, believes he was stressed out because of their illness. ‘

James was only 12 years old when he underwent major surgery. Emma first noticed something was wrong with him when he was a baby and developed a rash.

Scans revealed that his heart was extremely enlarged on the left side. He was later diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a type of heart muscle disease that causes the heart chambers to enlarge as a result of tests.  He remained stable on medications until the age of 12 when he began to feel lethargic and breathless.

He was put on a heart transplant waiting list and received a match in February 2018. Emma recalls the moment a donor was found in the middle of the night.

“The police banged on the door at 3 am saying the hospital had a heart,” she continued. “They had been trying to ring us so they sent the police round. I let the police in and they gave us all the details, I was shaking; I was a mess.”

Tragically, just months after his operation, James’ then six-year-old sister Elizabeth began showing symptoms of the same condition. “Doctors kept telling me Elizabeth had a virus,” Emma continued. “In the summer of 2018, she suddenly fell very poorly. I knew something wasn’t right.”

While Elizabeth, now nine, waited for a donor, she was given an artificial heart – a device that maintains blood circulation in the human body for a set period of time. Doctors found a matching heart in January 2019, when the child was only six years old, and the transplant was completed. The operation was a success, and the family was on their way to their happily ever after.

In a tragic turn of events, Malcolm died just four weeks after Elizabeth was discharged from the hospital. While he did not have dilated cardiomyopathy, tests revealed that he had heart disease that he was unaware of.

“It turned our lives totally upside down,” Emma said. “Not just emotionally, but financially too. He really was my rock and an amazing father to the children.

“He had a sudden heart attack which was probably brought on by stress. He was going to work in between running up and down to the hospital in Newcastle.

“We were trying to split time between the children. While one parent was up there, one parent was down here trying to keep life as normal as possible for the one at home.

“Being a single mum and a widow all of a sudden at the age of 40 was quite a shock because I was on my own. I had these two children who were only 12 and six and I had to try and keep it together for them.

“I had a breakdown; I wasn’t looking after myself or leaving the house. I wasn’t going out anywhere and I slept a lot of the time, but at the forefront was my children. I always made sure they had clean clothes and food and their medication.

“I wasn’t bothered about myself. I was just making sure the children were okay. I just shut myself off for a few weeks. I had to go to the doctor about it because I didn’t feel like I wanted to be here anymore.

“Losing Malcolm was the catalyst for the stress and the breakdown from my children having their operations. I went to the doctors and they sorted my medication out; I’m on antidepressants. They were amazing.

“Right now, I’m in a better place. The kids are in a better place and hopefully things will continue that way. Although they could still get poorly or need a new heart, that’s in the future and I just want to think about what’s happening right now.”

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