Jo and Steve Gibbs‘s
Jo and Steve Gibbs‘s "perfectly healthy" son Matthew died of an unexplained cardiac death. Picture: Rob Leeson

How ‘perfectly healthy’ 23yo collapsed and died

A family that was ripped apart by the death of its only child is pleading for more research to be funnelled into one of the country's biggest killers.

Seven years ago, Jo and Steve Gibbs, from Riddells Creek, were left devastated after their "perfectly healthy" son Matthew, 23, died of an unexplained cardiac death.

The condition, for which there is no known reason or warning, is one of the biggest causes of death in young people - surpassed only by suicide.

A new Victorian-first registry, which was established by the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute at the start of 2020, has already recorded 660 deaths from the condition this year.

Matthew Gibbs died of an unexplained cardiac death.
Matthew Gibbs died of an unexplained cardiac death.

The family, along with the Baker Institute, are now pleading for more to be done to help prevent other families from suffering the same fate.

An avid sportsman and tradie, "Matty" was seemingly healthy at the time of his death, something a coroner later confirmed.

The family "joker" had been to work just like any other day, before heading off to play sport.

"He was playing indoor soccer, he'd been on the field for about 10 minutes and he sort of ran to the side of the field, grabbed the goal and collapsed," Ms Gibbs said.

"We got a call to say he had collapsed. I rang my parents (who lived nearby) and said: 'Can you go down there.'

"And I just remember my dad ringing and saying: 'Where are you? Hurry up.' He had this sense of urgency in his voice."

Tragically, he never regained consciousness and about 12 hours later passed away in hospital.

There was no explanation, no underlying health issues and no obvious cause - just a world of devastation his parents say they will never get over.

"One of the hardest things to watch was that he had tears … I just wonder if that was his way of saying goodbye," Ms Gibbs said.

The family is now using their heartache to push for better awareness about the condition and more research to help put a stop to the rising toll.

"I'm really pushing for people to become aware of unexplained cardiac death," Ms Gibbs said.

"To never know why your perfectly healthy son or daughter has just collapsed and died, for no reason … Matthew was our only child and I think the hardest thing is that there's not a mark on them. I just kept thinking wake up, wake up."

Researcher and cardiologist Dr Liz Paratz said the toughest thing for families was not knowing why.

"We urgently need more information so we can begin to answer those questions," Dr Paratz said.

"As part of our registry project, we are screening family members and collecting genetic samples so they can learn from the clues these samples provide.

"We're also investigating other diagnostic tools to help us better understand why these incidents occur."

She added: "We want to find ways of answering grieving families' questions without inflicting more distress, then use this information to identify those at risk and prevent further tragic deaths."

To support research into unexplained cardiac arrest and death or to donate, go to donate.baker.edu.au

alanah.frost@news.com.au

Originally published as How 'perfectly healthy' 23yo collapsed and died


Superspreader alert as hotel cluster grows

Premium Content Superspreader alert as hotel cluster grows

The state is facing its biggest challenge since the pandemic lockdown, with fears a...

Tyre spikes used on runaway crooks travelling at 160km/h

Premium Content Tyre spikes used on runaway crooks travelling at 160km/h

A search is under way for a group of offenders who fled from police along the...

‘Not a family playground’: Council responds to park query

Premium Content ‘Not a family playground’: Council responds to park query

The park where the former squash courts has copped criticism from the public.