Interview with Alice2009
Reaching out to hold her daughter’s hand, Julie Emmerson sat silently at her bedside. Lying there, her blonde hair spread out on the pillow, Nicola looked for all the world as if she was asleep. But, aged just 20, her heart had suddenly – and inexplicably – stopped beating: Nicola was dead.
“She was so still, but still so warm,” remembers Julie, tears welling in her eyes. “I knew what had happened, but I didn’t want it to be the truth… And I knew I had to leave her but I didn’t want to. I just wanted to pick her up and take her home.
“My son was saying ‘Wake up, Nicola. Come on, wake up’; it was heart-rending. She was a real ray of sunshine: when she died, our whole world clouded over – even now, those clouds are still there.”
Looking round the sitting room of her Royston home, Julie points out a whole gallery of family photos. Many of them contain Nicola’s smiling face.
“She’ll always be with us,” adds Julie. “I hate it when people say ‘It’s time to move on’. As far as I’m concerned, to move on you have to leave something behind – and I’d never leave her behind, never.”
Nicola died in January 2007. Out clubbing with her girlfriends, to celebrate her 20th birthday, she suddenly collapsed; tests later showed Nicola had died instantly, and was dead before she hit the dance floor.
A post-mortem found Nicola had suffered a sudden cardiac death. Shockingly, 12 young people in the UK are lost to sudden cardiac death each and every week. And, at the moment, doctors don’t know why.
“We’ve still got questions that need answering,” admits Julie. “It’s horrible not having a reason…”
Describing her eldest daughter as “very lively, always the centre of attention”, Julie says Nicola had, ironically, suffered heart problems as a tiny baby.
“She was a healthy 8lb 1oz and she wasn’t sickly,” remembers Julie, who also has two other children, Daniel, 23, and Charlotte, 14. “But my mother’s instinct told me something wasn’t right. It turned out she had a very, very fast and irregular heartbeat.”
Rushed into hospital, doctors said baby Nicola was in a critical condition. “They said we had to be prepared; they wanted to give her the last rites,” remembers Julie, with a shudder. But, with the aid of a defibrillator, the medics managed to restore a normal heartbeat.
They diagnosed Nicola with Wolff-Parkinson-White, a rare heart syndrome. After taking medication for two years, she recovered – and went on to live a full and healthy life.
“Ironically, after she died they tested her heart and found out she’d never had the syndrome at all,” adds Julie. “So that had nothing to do with her death.”
A former pupil at both Meridian and Greneway schools in Royston, Nicola went on to work for the town’s famous chocolate company, Hotel Chocolat, for five years, up until her death.
“She loved a party and was always socialising,” adds Julie. “On the night she died she’d booked a minibus to take her and her friends to a club in Watford; she’d even chosen the music they were going to listen to on the way.
“All the girls came here to get ready. I can still remember her walking in here, all dressed up; when she turned round she’d got her dress tucked into her knickers! We were all joking with her about that…
“When she left Nicola was on a real high. I said ‘Have a great time. Love you’ and she said ‘Love you, Mum’. That was the last thing she ever said to me.”
Julie’s husband, Steve, a driver for Sainsbury’s, then left to start a night shift. A funeral director, Julie herself was on call: during the evening, she was called out to two deaths. “I can remember coming in and saying to Charlotte, Daniel and his girlfriend ‘That’s it, I don’t want to have to go out again tonight’ – next thing there were two policemen at the door, telling me Nicola had collapsed’,” she recounts.
“At that stage I didn’t realise the urgency… Nicola’s boyfriend had given her a teddy bear for Christmas and I remember grabbing that, thinking that she’d want something to cuddle in hospital.”
Daniel went with his mum to Watford; Steve went straight to the hospital from work. “We got there and they asked us into a little room,” continues Julie, closing her eyes. “I knew then… Nicola’s mates said they knew she had gone because they could hear me screaming – and they were standing outside the hospital.”
The accident and emergency team had spent an hour trying to resuscitate Nicola, to no avail. Taken to see her body, Julie says she spent more than two hours at her bedside, unable to tear herself away.
“We’ve since been told she was dead before she even hit the floor,” says Julie. “Later on I’m sure we’ll take comfort from that. Nicola wasn’t even aware: as far as she was concerned, she was out with her friends and having an absolute ball.”
Forced to say goodbye, Julie, Steve and Daniel returned home – to break the news to Charlotte. “She was only 11,” Julie explains, tearful at the memory. “She said ‘How’s Nicola?’ and I had to say ‘She’s not coming home. She died’… Her little face…”
Because Julie was a funeral director at the time, she immediately started planning “the send-off Nicola deserved”. “Because of my job, it was something we’d talked about,” she adds. “Nicola said she wanted a white coffin with silver swirls and horses; she even told me the music she wanted played – including Aerosmith’s I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing. She wasn’t here long enough to have the wedding of her dreams, so I wanted her to have the best send-off possible.”
But the funeral plans had to be put on hold for a month: following a post-mortem, Nicola’s heart was removed for further tests. “It was dreadful,” continues Julie. “We were asked to go back down to the mortuary to visit her before they took her to another hospital; they put her in a deep freeze and took her heart away. And then we just had to wait for the phone call, saying her heart was back with her and she was coming home.”
The tests revealed sudden cardiac death, the cause of which is unknown. There were no drugs in Nicola’s system and only a small amount of alcohol – she was below the drink-drive limit. To this day, Julie says there is no explanation.
When the time came, Julie chose to lay out Nicola’s body herself. “I wanted to do it,” she says. “I dressed her in the dress she’d bought for New Year’s Eve; it was strapless and she loved it. Organising the funeral was the last thing I could do for her, and I wanted it to be perfect.”
The funeral took place on February 12 and Julie says the church was packed. Everyone was asked to wear something pink, even the men, because it was Nicola’s favourite colour, and her body was driven to the church in a glass carriage, drawn by a team of horses. In line with her wishes, Nicola’s coffin was white with silver swirls; instead of flowers, Julie topped the coffin with the pink, glittery Stetson Nicola wore clubbing on the night she died.
“It was a strange feeling,” admits Julie. “You’re there, but you’re not there, if you know what I mean? It’s like watching a movie, a very sad movie at that.”
Julie admits it was months before she stopped expecting Nicola to just walk in the door one night, with “a smile or a sarky comment”. “But that was it,” she says. “We had this new life and we had to try to live it.
“Even now some days are very hard; there have been times when I don’t even want to get out of bed. But then you think of Nicola and you bounce back: if you were miserable or had the hump, she always had a way of getting you out of it – by saying or doing something to make you laugh.”
Julie says the whole family was left devastated by Nicola’s death. Eventually leaving her job as a funeral director, because she found it too painful, Julie had 18 months of counselling and admits reaching “a very dark place”.
“I went through a horrible stage where I wanted to go and find her – and I knew the only way I could be with her was to take my own life,” she explains. “I wanted to be with her, but I knew I needed to be here, that everyone here needed me…”
Julie says throwing herself into fundraising gave her both a focus and a sense of hope. She discovered that a team of doctors, based at Papworth Hospital, were researching sudden cardiac death and trying to identify young people who might be at risk.
“They think it’s something to do with the electrics in the heart, like it having a short circuit,” explains Julie. “We want to help them find some answers – and stop other families going through what we’ve been through.”
The Emmerson family have set up a charitable trust in Nicola’s name: by holding a whole series of fundraisers, from golf days and auctions to sponsored challenges (Julie has just done the Great North Run), they are aiming to make £25,000 for Papworth. The trust has already raised £7,000 and Julie says she has been both touched and overwhelmed by people’s generosity.
“We’re doing this in memory of Nicola: she’s at the heart of things, which is where she always wanted to be – in the limelight,” adds Julie, with a smile. “It’s also a focus for us, and it’s for a very important cause. By telling this story, we want to make people aware of sudden cardiac death; it’s a silent killer.
“Losing a child changes your life: life can never be the same again. All you can do is try and make the best of the life you have left – and that’s what we’re doing.”
‘She would’ve been very proud’ – Tottenham Hotspur legends come to
Royston to play in charity football match in memory of Nicola, 20
18:27 18 May 2016
Football legends were in town at the
weekend to pit their skills against the fundraising family of a young woman who
died while celebrating her 20th birthday.
Nicola Emmerson's family - brother
Daniel, dad Steven, mum Julie, and sister Charlotte - cheering on their team
versus the Spurs Legends. Picture: Rebecca Iles Photography
daughter died in 2007, a victim of sudden cardiac death.
Mum Julie: “It was
important for us to put on the event to raise vital funds for research into
sudden cardiac death in a specific age group, people under 35.”
Around 1,000 people
came along to the match at Royston Town’s Garden Walk ground, which saw The
Nicola Emmerson Trust team, made up of friends of friends and Julie’s husband
Steven’s work colleagues, beaten by the Spurs squad which included Gary
Doherty, who scored a hat-trick on the day, skipper John Lacy, Micky Southam,
Brian Statham, Stephen Clemence and goalkeeper Gareth Howells.
“We may have lost 7-1 at football but we were the
winners on the day – I think Nicola would’ve been very proud,” Julie said.
“We had a brilliant
time and raised £4,000 on a day that was enjoyed by all.”
There was also a
bouncy castle, face painting, raffle and an auction, featuring signed pennants
from both the Tottenham first team and Watford FC, a shirt signed by Jimmy
Greaves, and a signed photograph of Gary Lineker.
something for everyone, the weather was lovely and I couldn’t have wished for a
better turn out,” said Julie.
“What has to be one
of my favorite moments was when the Spurs captain John Lacy asked Jeremy
Whitford, the Tottenham mascot who is the four-year-old son of my friend Laura
if his favourite player was Harry Kane, and Jeremy pointed to me and said: ‘No,
Spurs legends took
on team Nicola Emmerson Trust in the match at Royston Football Club. Picture:
Rebecca Iles Photography
“We cannot thank
the teams, the club and all our helpers enough, without them the event would
not have been able to go ahead.
“I was quite
overwhelmed, it was such an emotional day and to raise that amount of money was
Devoted mum raises thousands for vital research
Written byANDREW DICKENS
Julie and her husband Steve Emmerson have handed a £10,000 cheque to Papworth Hospital to fund research into Sudden Cardiac Death
A devoted mother who lost her daughter when she tragically died in 2007 has raised £10,000 to fund research into Sudden Cardiac Death.
At the age of just 20, Nicola Emmerson collapsed and died whilst out celebrating her birthday in a nightclub, leaving her family and friends in total shock.
Her mum, Julie, from Royston, appeared on the Over to You show on Huntingdon Community Radio to discuss her experiences, before presenting an impressive £10,000 cheque to Dr Andrew Grace, consultant cardiologist, at Papworth Hospital, near Huntingdon.
The money was raised at a number of community events last year and adds to a total of around £25,000 which has been passed to the hospital.
Following Nicola’s death, Julie and her family set up the Nicola Emmerson Trust in her memory, and hope the money raised will help to find a prevention for Sudden Cardiac Death.
Forty nine-year-old Julie, of Lingfield Road, Royston, said: “The money was raised through a charity golf day, an Adele tribute night, a Spurs legends football match, and lots of generous donations.
“We would like to thank everyone who has contributed.
“All of the money raised will be used to fund research into the causes and prevention of Sudden Cardiac Death, and the trust will continue to focus on raising funds to help others so more families do not have to go through what we have.”
According to Dr Grace, approximately 70,000 people die from SCD in the UK each year, and 450,000 world wide.
Dr Grace said: “It is mainly older males who have a history of coronary heart disease. In young healthy people like Nicola it is less common.
“The effectiveness of The Nicola Emmerson Trust helps to identify people at risk, who need to have a defibrillator fitted to prevent a Sudden Cardiac Death.
“Although we do receive grants, the trust helps to keep the research going by filling in the gaps in between.
“It enables us to retain a researcher for day to day financial support.”
Teresa Hills, deja vu Royston
Blog – Exceptions to the rule...
Have you ever been blown away by someone’s story? Have you ever cried when you first met someone when you heard what life has dished them out. I hadn’t until I met Julie. Julie is a remarkable woman who I couldn’t admire more; she is beautiful, she has strength, personality and above all that something special that makes you so glad you met her and that she has come into your life. Our meeting came about in a way that makes me believe that fate stepped in...
Since opening my dress agency April 2011 I have been approached by numerous businesses, school organisations and charities asking me to advertise and support their event or publication. Whilst I believe it is important to support your local community it is often hard to differentiate who and the obvious question in this economy has to be “what’s in it for me?” Well that’s what I used to think before I met Julie.
A small network of local businesses had decided to run a charity fashion show. We had decided on Great Ormond Street Hospital and The Hub a local charity supporting families in the community. Unfortunately before we really got started The Hub was forced into closing due to lack of funding and we were looking for a replacement but all felt that it had to be one that meant something to us. That’s when Julie came along....
I received an email asking me to support The Nicola Emmerson Trust by placing an advert into her programme for a football event she was running. As the summer had been a quiet one I didn’t have the budget so the obvious answer was no. Usually I would just write a short email back saying thank you very much however..... I don’t know why this one was different but I clicked on the link she had sent through and read her family’s story and I challenge anyone to read this without shedding a tear.
Julies’ charity fits like a glove with the reason we chose Great Ormond Street Hospital; one of the team’s daughter Cerys was born with a condition called Hylpolastic left heart syndrome and has required 2 major operations since her birth without the GOSH team she wouldn’t be here today.