SHE was a much-loved, fit and healthy young woman with a bright future. But tragic Sophie Ford died from a rare condition which so often remains unexplained.
An inquest into the 21-year-old student nurse’s death revealed she was a victim of Sudden Adult Death Syndrome (SADS).
Sophie, of Wark Crescent, Calf Close, Jarrow, died on September 9.
An inquest into her death, held yesterday at Newcastle Civic Centre, heard that the Northumbria University student had been out with friends in the city the night before.
The group returned to a friend’s home in Lockerbie Gardens, South Denton, where they stayed up drinking into the early hours of the morning.
The friends went to bed, but at about 5.30am, heard a thud and found Sophie collapsed on the floor and unresponsive.
She was taken to the city’s Royal Victoria Infirmary, where she was pronounced dead.
Sophie, who dreamed of becoming a midwife, was due to begin her final year of university the day after she died.
Consultant pathologist Dr Nigel Kirkham, who carried out the post-mortem examination, also told the inquest that Sophie had been visiting her GP in the time leading up to her death.
Sophie, who lived with her mum, Diane Collins, 43, dad Stephen Collins, 56, and younger sister, Emily Collins, 12, had been having heart palpitations for a number of years, and had been fainting regularly.
She had been referred to cardiology specialists at South Tyneside District Hospital, where a number of tests were carried out to determine what was wrong with her.
A 24-hour heart rate recording showed an average of 130 beats per minute – almost double what it should be – but still no cause for concern was found.
After her death, Dr Kirkham sent Sophie’s heart to a national expert, Dr Mary Shepherd of London’s Royal Brompton Hospital, who carried out a number of tests, but found no abnormalities.
A toxicology report showed no sign of drugs, and only 66mg of alcohol – meaning that Sophie was under the legal drink-driving limit and would have passed a breathalyser test.
With no other possible causes, Dr Kirkham ruled that Sophie died of SADS, which kills 500 people in England every year.
It is given as the cause of death in cases where no cause can be found, even after drugs have been excluded and an expert cardiac pathologist has examined the heart for structural abnormalities.
The conditions responsible for SADS cause a cardiac arrest by bringing on a ventricle arrhythmia, even though the person has no disease affecting the structure of the heart.
Coroner Karen Dilks said: “Sudden Adult Death Syndrome is a recognised diagnosis of exclusion and I accept Dr Kirkham and Dr Shepherd’s evidence, and therefore find it appropriate to record that the cause of Sophie’s death was sudden cardiac death of a morphologically normal heart.
“Having accepted that, it is also appropriate to record a verdict of natural causes.”
Dr Kirkham and Mrs Dilks also advised immediate blood relatives of Sophie, particularly her younger sister, to be tested in case they too are at risk of the condition.
* Verdict: Natural causes
** The charity Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) was set up to offer support and information to families who have suffered a loss through SADS.
Anyone who wants to find out more can go to www.c-r-y.org.uk