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just convulsing and I screamed for Paul. “George was vomiting and we called 999 and

I remember completely losing it, just panicking so badly. I went outside in the rain and shouted for the ambulance to get here quicker.” When the paramedics arrived, Rhian, Paul and

George went straight to the nearest hospital, leaving the two children - who had seen everything unfold - in the care of their aunt. Within two hours of arriving at the hospital, though, George was dead. Doctors later discovered the fit was brought on by influenza and bronchial pneumonia, which had gone undetected. There had been no symptoms. “We couldn’t take it in. It happens and you

don’t quite realise what has happened. I didn’t cry for a couple of hours. “But after he had died, the doctors let me hold him, let me spend a few more hours with him, with Paul and my parents. “I said goodbye to him and all the while he just looked like he was sleeping.” Afterwards, the couple had to go home, to a house still strewn with baby toys, to a carpet still stained with baby vomit, to an empty cot and a silent baby monitor. They also went home to two confused young

children. “They were only three and four then,” Rhian

says. “They asked where George was. They said, one of them, ‘why have you left him in the hospital?’ “There’s things you forget and things you

don’t; I’ve never forgotten that question. “And we couldn’t tell them right then but

Paul and I talked and we knew we wanted to be honest. “So, when they came home from nursery

the next day, we sat them down and told them George had been too poorly to come home. “We said he had gone to live with the angels,

that he was a bright star in the sky now. And they just nodded, oh right, and that was it.” For the next couple of days, Rhian and Paul

talked to each other; there was no one else to speak with. Rhian says: “There was no bereavement

support, nobody came officially to speak to us. And we weren’t yet in grief, we were still in shock. “But we talked; we had never been as close as

we were then, it felt. And Paul was so sad, so upset. “He blamed himself. He kept thinking what

he could have done, should have done. That he should have had the heating on in the house, that he should’ve taken George to hospital in the car, not waited for the ambulance. And I blamed myself for giving George too much tea. “It wasn’t rational but you don’t think

rationally. You have to remember that we had no official cause of death then, we didn’t know exactly why he had died.” But as difficult as those days were, Rhian said

there was nothing to suggest what Paul did next. “I’ve had 20 months to think about this and

there was nothing. He wasn’t down in the dumps in that way. And we had planned to go to the beach that day. “He just left the house. He didn’t say anything, he just went out for a drive.” Paul drove down the motorway, half an hour

away, and he died when he fell from a bridge over the M4. At Paul’s inquest, a coroner recorded a verdict

of accidental death rather than suicide because the 33-year-old had been diagnosed with post- traumatic stress disorder in the days after his son’s death.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

PAUL BURKE WAS SUFFERING with Post- traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a condition that is sometimes developed after people are involved in, or witness, a traumatic experience that is outside their normal life. The disorder manifests itself in many

different ways, and does not always develop straight after the traumatic event; it can be months, or even years after. It is an anxiety disorder which may develop after actual and threatened death, or serious injury. After the event, sufferers may experience flashbacks, panic attacks and heightened awareness to the things around them. PTSD is very common in ex-military personnel who have been involved in conflict situations.

06 Farewell Magazine It is estimated that up to 3% of the

population are likely to be affected by PTSD at some point, according to Mind, the mental health charity. Symptoms of PTSD include: disturbed sleep, irritability and aggressive behaviour, lack of concentration, extreme alertness, startled and a panicked response to anything to do with the trauma. Sufferers are also likely to keep busy as much as possible and avoid situations that remind them of the trauma that they lived through. Repressing memories, being unable to remember aspects of the event, feeling dazed, cut off and emotionally numb, the feeling that there is no point carrying on and suicidal thoughts are also common.

Helping others

through her pain RHIAN BURKE HAS NOW launched a charity to help other families who experience similar traumas – called 2 Wish Upon a Star. The aim of the charity is to improve

and create better bereavement services in South Wales, and eventually further afield. Since being set up in June 2012, just

four months after Rhian’s tragic loss, the charity has raised more than £100,000. The first project that Rhian wants to

support includes developing facilities in the accident and emergency department of the Royal Glamorgan Hospital, in Llantrisant, where George passed away. Emphasis will be on the immediate shock and trauma support required after losing a child so suddenly. And special focus will be on the support the ‘daddy’ receives after such a traumatic experience. The charity also intends to design a waiting area for relatives to sit and wait for news of their loved ones and also a quiet room where relatives can sit with a loved one if they pass away. Brave Rhian is also now conducting talks on her experiences to help the NHS and the police deal with similar tragedies. She said: “The support from my

family, friends, South Wales Police and even complete strangers has been truly overwhelming. The ripple effect has been immense and given me a purpose.” For more information, go to

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