Mother whose son died aged 17 ‘after a sneezing fit triggered a stroke’ meets the man whose life was saved by his donor heart
- Susan Andrews’ son Liam died at 17 in June 2013 after six consecutive sneezes
- Sneezing fit is thought to have triggered a stroke, he died despite surgery
- Alex Bell received Liam’s heart after his own was functioning at just 5%
A mother whose son died after a sneezing fit has met the man whose life was saved by his donor heart.
Susan Andrews’ son Liam died at just 17 in June 2013 after six consecutive sneezes caused him to have a stroke.
Liam was an organ donor, with his heart, pancreas, kidneys and liver being given to those in need.
Father-of-two Alex Bell, 53, received Liam’s heart after his own was functioning at just five per cent.
Ms Andrews reached out to the lawyer when she read a newspaper article about him on the fifth anniversary of her son’s death.
Now firm friends, both Ms Andrews and Mr Bell took part in the World Transplant Games in Newcastle earlier this week.
Mr Bell competed in badminton and table tennis for team GB, while Ms Andrews represented the families of UK donors as ‘team leader’.
Susan Andrews, whose son Liam died after a sneezing fit, is pictured left with father-of-two Alex Bell whose life was saved by his donor heart. Liam (right) died at just 17 in June 2013 after six consecutive sneezes caused him to have a stroke he never recovered from
Mr Bell, who is father to Matt, 17, and Charlie, 13, said: ‘Getting to know Suzanne and her family is very emotional. She gave me a gift which I can never return.
‘We have become very close friends and I like to think I now have part of her DNA. If Liam had a family I would be that family.’
Ms Andrews added: ‘I love being in Alex’s company. He loves life like Liam did, and he makes the most of extra time and the new life he has been given.
‘I couldn’t be more proud of being a donor mum right now.’
CAN SNEEZING CAUSE A STROKE?
Sneezing and coughing is usually just a sign of a cold or allergy. However, in rare cases it can trigger a stroke.
Forcefully coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose can suddenly increase the pressure inside your brain.
If a person has high blood pressure or cerebral aneurysm – bulge in a blood vessel leading to the brain – sneezing could trigger a haemorrhagic stroke.
This occurs when blood from an artery leaks into the brain, where it may form a clot.
Strokes like this are said to be more common during flu or allergy season, as well as winter and spring.
Source: UCI Health
On the morning of his death, Liam told his mother he had a headache and had sneezed six times.
‘I thought it was nothing serious at first and I told him I would get him some paracetamol but then he got poorly very quickly,’ she previously said.
Liam was soon vomiting and rolling around in pain. His eyes were even going into the back of his head.
Ms Andrews called an ambulance and Liam was rushed to University Hospital of North Tees before being transferred to the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough.
Doctors noticed a clot on Liam’s brain, which they surgically removed.
The teenager spent four days in intensive care before dying on his brother’s 12th birthday.
‘I was shocked and devastated,’ Ms Andrews said in 2014.
‘I never would have imagined something as simple as a few sneezes could kill a healthy young boy.’
Mr Bell and Ms Andrews have become ‘very good friends’. They are pictured at the World Transplant Games earlier this week in Newcastle. Mr Bell competed for team GB in badminton and table tennis, while Ms Andrews represented the families of donors as ‘team leader’
Shortly before he died, Liam applied for a provisional driving licence and agreed on the form to donate his organs if he were to die.
‘Just six months before his death Liam was telling me you should be prepared to donate organs if you are willing to receive, then six months later we were fulfilling his wishes,’ Ms Andrews said.
Two years after Liam’s death, Mr Bell’s son Matt, then 12, wrote to Ms Andrews thanking her on behalf of her son.
Ms Andrews only responded when she saw a newspaper article last year featuring Mr Bell on the fifth anniversary of her son’s death.
‘It just felt like it was meant to be,’ she said. This prompted the full-time mother to contact Mr Bell via Facebook.
‘When I met Suzanne I remember pulling up in the car park and I saw Suzanne there,’ Mr Bell said.
‘There was no words exchanged, I just gave her a big hug. She was trembling and so was I.
‘We sat down and introduced ourselves rather formally and then we chatted for the next two hours. All Suzanne wanted to do was tell me everything about Liam.’
Ms Andrews previously described her son as ‘sensitive and loving’.
‘I could have mature conversations with him but he was still young and liked to get himself into mischief,’ she said. ‘I would never have swapped him for the world.’
She is also mother to Amy, 22, Elliott, 18, Erin, 14, Lewis, eight, and Evie, six.
The pair are speaking out to encourage people to donate their organs when they die. ‘I’m living proof organ donation works,’ Mr Bell said.