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Friends didn't know asthma was a killer; INSIDE OUT.

The death of actress Charlotte Coleman from an asthma attack has rekindled heartbreaking memories for one family who lost their daughter in similar circumstances, as Eileen Taylor reports

TWO years ago today, Andrea Matthews was expecting a visit from her youngest child, Eve Marie, 23. A warm and caring person, with the sort of good looks which could have launched her on a modelling career, Eve Marie had opted for nursing and was excitedly finalising plans for a dream trip to Australia and New Zealand.

But instead of greeting Eve Marie on November 27,1999, Andrea received the news she had subconsciously been dreading for years. Opening the front door of her home in Ruabon, North Wales, she found her police officer son Rhys, standing there to tell her that her beautiful, popular daughter had died in the early hours of the morning of a severe asthma attack.

Eve Marie, who would have celebrated her 26th birthday on December 12 this year, had become one of the 1,600 people who die every year from asthma.

Yet she had fought to live life to the full and not to let her asthma make her feel "different".

The youngest of three children, Eve Marie was about 10-months old when she first showed signs of wheezing but was two and a half before she was finally diagnosed.

From then on, like many parents, Andrea lived in a permanent state of anxiety, wondering when the next attack would be and how severe.

"Often I had to watch her struggling for breath, wanting to be able to breathe for her."

The asthma, and frequent hospitalisation, interfered with Eve Marie's schooldays, says Andrea, who works for Wrexham Education Department. "But fortunately she had a photographic memory and seemed to be able to catch up."

Eve Marie fought hard to live with asthma, says Andrea. "She did cross-country, played netball and hockey and played the clarinet in the school band. She never complained about having asthma, she just took it in her stride."

ANDREA had hoped that Eve Marie might grow out of the disease, as her father, Andrea's ex-husband John, had done.

But although her attacks grew less frequent in puberty, they were much fiercer and took hold more quickly, says Andrea, 59.

"She always carried her medication with her but sometimes that wasn't enough and she had to be rushed to hospital. We were told always to call an ambulance because they had everything to help her and could get there quickly."

One of those frightening incidents took place when Eve Marie was 15 and came into her mother's bedroom just after midnight fighting for breath. "She went unconscious at the hospital and had to be rushed into crash. I'll never forget she opened her eyes for a second and asked 'Am I going to die mum?' and I told her 'No, No'."

Despite her health problems, Eve Marie decided she wanted to help others and enrolled for nursing studies at Bangor University and Wrexham Maelor Hospital.

Later specialising in mental health nursing, she went to work at Winwick Hospital near Warrington - living away from home.

"I felt uneasy about that, " recalls Andrea who has another daughter, Anna, 32.

At the time of her death, Eve Marie was sharing a house in Newton-le-Willows with another Wrexham staff nurse, Wendy Pinder.

On November 27 1999, she was due to come home to see her mother. But in the early hours, she had another severe attack and woke her housemate Wendy.

"She was gasping for breath, " says Andrea. "Wendy phoned an ambulance and managed to bring her round when she went unconscious. But when she went unconscious again, she wasn't able resuscitate her."

"After all the years of worrying, my nightmare had happened, " says Andrea.

"Although everyone in her circle knew she had asthma, they were still shocked that she should die of it. As some said, 'we never knew it was life-threatening'.

Even her doctors and specialists said they had never expected it.

We thought we had it under control and all the emergency procedures in place so that everywhere she went, people knew what to do, even though she didn't want to make a big thing about it."

NOW, as she faces the anniversary of Eve Marie's death and braces herself for her birthday, Andrea calls this "my bad time". Today she will go to Ruabon cemetery with flowers for her daughter's grave where she recently knelt to plant snowdrops.

She has spoken about Eve Marie's death at this sad time because she wants to raise awareness about asthma and the need for more research into a condition which affects more than a million Britons with the number increasing every year.

"Some people still think that asthma is just a bit of wheezing. It can be such a fast, complicated illness but there are no bandages so people don't realise that it actually kills, " says Andrea, whose friends and family are fundraising for National Asthma Campaign which helps research and gives support to patients and families.

"We will try to keep this as an ordinary day because Eve Marie would not want us to be prostrate with grief. She is still part of our lives and I believe my lass is still around us, " says Andrea.

National Asthma Campaign helpline number is 0845-701 0203


SUE Hunter, Principal of the Merseyside-based charity AMC healthcare training, who helps to train health professionals in managing asthma patients and who works as a respiratory specialist nurse at Clatterbridge Hospital, said deaths like Charlotte Coleman's and Eve Marie's are tragic.

"Sometimes, as people get older, their asthma becomes more brittle which means the effect is more rapid and the airways close more rapidly. But 85pc of people who die of asthma do so because they haven't got help quickly enough or realised that their asthma symptoms have worsened."

Along with the National Asthma Campaign, Sue emphasises that the majority of asthma cases are mild to moderate and can be very well controlled with superb and safe drugs.

"The main message is that people with asthma should always be aware of where they are up to with their symptoms.

For example if you need to use your inhaler more than once a day, you need to go back to your GP or asthma nurse to have your treatments reviewed. It could be that your preventative medication needs to be altered. You may just need a temporary change in treatment to get you over a sticky period until you get back to what is normal for you. If your symptoms are increasing or you are unsure of what is going on, talk to your GP and ask for a review of your treatment and a new asthma management plan."


TRAGIC: Eve Marie Matthews and actress Charlotte Coleman, above, were killed by an asthma attack
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Nov 27, 2001
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