A young man whose brother died during an apparent attempt to get ‘high’ has called on those who may be suicidal and self-harming to consider the consequences for those they could be leaving behind.
Patrick Rea was speaking following the loss of his older brother Alec (24) less than a fortnight ago.
Alec passed away outside the family home in Carndonagh on the afternoon of Wednesday, February 3.
The talented musician, his brother said, appeared to have been trying to get high from propane gas but something went tragically wrong.
Initially, Patrick said, it was believed Alec may have died by suicide, but within hours of his passing, the circumstantial evidence seemed to point towards an accidental death.
Patrick (19) was alerted by his mother’s scream and wasted no time in trying to revive his brother, aided at the scene by a Jehovah’s Witness, who happened to be in the area at the time.
He said he wanted people to know in detail what had happened on that day and what families are left to deal with, in the hope that it will save even one life, and spare at least one other family the pain his own family are now forced to endure.
Recalling the sequence of events on the day of Alec’s death, Patrick said: “It was 4am. I was awake. I heard my brother come down the stairs into the kitchen. Half an hour later I go to the kitchen, he’s not there. I go to use our stove but I guess we’re out of gas but, as we found out later, at that time the gas line was disconnected. My brother was outside by our oil tank getting high and that was why the stove wasn’t working.
“About 10 am I’m still up. I tell my mum we’re out of gas. She checks the gas and it is working fine. She talks to my brother and offered him to go to Derry with her for shopping and to have a good time. My brother said no, he was just going to go out for a walk.
“My mother didn’t actually go to Derry. I went out with a friend at about 11 am. We went out and got lunch in Carn. I came back about 2pm and I had been up for about 24 hours so I went into bed and I guess at this point this is where the commotion starts.
“I hear from outside as I am lying in bed, my mum screams ‘Call 999’. It was a horrifying scream. I’ve never heard anything like it. So I jumped out of bed, quickly throw my clothes on.
“At first I thought my little sister had been hit by a car or something because she was playing outside, and there’s like the oil man who we had ordered some gas off because we thought it was empty earlier. He was standing out the back, and so I went back there and my mum was back there by the oil tank.
“I saw my brother, he was behind the oil tank. He was lying on his side. I quickly asked what had happened. My dad was out there as well. From the time we heard the scream until we were all out there was about 60 seconds.”
Patrick said that he ignored advice from others at the scene not to touch his brother and began CPR.
“I ignored them because I know he was in a really bad situation,” he said.
“My brother is well dressed, really well dressed. That is also why we thought he had killed himself.
“I roll him onto his back, and I see his forehead, his lips, part of his cheeks are purple. I start the CPR.
“I blow into his mouth. I hold his nose so the air just doesn’t come out. There’s a slight smell of propane. I’m not trained in CPR but just based on what I’ve read I try to do it as smartly as I could. I breathed into his mouth and I started chest compressions. 20 compressions, then you breathe twice into his mouth, then 20 compressions. I thought while I was doing this it’s very possible he was dead. I was 80 per cent sure he was dead. But I knew there was a few per cent chance I could get my brother back.
“The paramedics were being called. My arms start getting tired after a while. You never think but your arms start getting tired and you start getting exhausted while you do this. I’m a fit guy, I work out and I was still getting tired.”
The Jehovah’s Witness, who was consoling the family, was then asked to take over compressions while Patrick continued to do the breathing part. The ambulance arrived at the scene 15 to 20 minutes later and the Gardai arrived as well.
Initially, Patrick said, the family had thought Alec may have died by suicide.
“I remember while I was doing the compressions on him I was so angry at him because he didn’t know what our family was seeing and how we felt having to try and resuscitate him. I was like, ‘Why would you do this? If you could see what was happening right now you wouldn’t have done it’.
“He’s my older brother, it should have been the other way around, I shouldn’t have to look after him.
“I tell the paramedics, ‘If there is a 0.1 per cent chance you can do anything for him just don’t stop’. I go outside and I wash the vomit off my clothing and my face. They said ‘he’s dead’ or ‘he’s gone’.”
Later, Patrick recalled how his brother had his MP3 player and headphones with him in the garden along with a sandwich - which hadn’t been touched - and an energy drink. “I went and laid on my bed feeling sick. I wasn’t crying, everyone around me was crying. I was just feeling sick. And then I remembered that the gas had been not working earlier in the morning and I remembered there was a sandwich and a drink out there. The position we found him in was very awkward, like he had just passed out while getting ‘high.’
“About six hours later I go in and tell my parents it might actually not been a suicide.
“He had a guitar lesson the next morning. He had been depressed and he was just getting back up on his feet. He had been offered gigs every second Saturday for the rest of the year. For him, he was in a good space. My parents tell me I’m right, it was very possibly not a suicide.”
Patrick said that with a friend he then went through his brother’s internet history and came across instructions about getting high on gas and other materials, with detailed information on precautions and safety.
“He had done lots of research on how to safely get high,” Patrick said. “He had took his precautions.
“Another part of the reason we think he wasn’t trying to kill himself was that this was mid-day and the oil tank was just a few metres from the house.”
Patrick also recalled how around six months earlier Alec had told him how certain products could be used to get high. And just a few days before Alec’s death Patrick also came across some gas equipment in the garage.
Patrick said: “I picked them up off the floor and I was like ‘If you have been getting high on these that’s f**king stupid. Don’t do that sh*t, it’s horrible’. He didn’t deny it; he didn’t accept it.”
In relation to the day of Alec’s death, Patrick paid tribute to the Jehovah’s Witness who lent his assistance to the family at the scene.
Some days later, he also wrote a hard-hitting Facebook post based on the harrowing experience of his brother’s death, which has since been shared over 200 times.
“I told people how I felt, and how I wished people could have seen what I had to see and what our family had to see because if anyone could see that they wouldn’t kill themselves,” he said. “And I tried to make the point that he didn’t kill himself, it was an accident. We called the gards back and said it probably wasn’t a suicide at that point.
“My brother was a really smart guy. He took precautions. I want to make the point that even when you take precautions and you know how to do it properly that you still die.
“He made no mistakes when he was doing it. He just passed out. He wasn’t a druggie by any means. It wasn’t like he was doing it every day, or every week. It was just an occasional thing.
“When someone finds your body and the fact I had to do CPR and the avalanche of stuff after you die, it just doesn’t make it worth it for anyone no matter who you are.
“I think anyone who tries to kill themselves or is suicidal, they don’t understand what is going to happen once they do die. It makes everything a thousand times worse for the people around them.
“I just want people to know how graphic it is when you find a body and the fact of how disgusting what I had to do was. That’s the grim reality of it.
“The image of his purple face is haunting. And if anyone could have seen what I saw and had to do what I did, no-one would kill themselves ever, simple as that.”
Patrick also urged people to act immediately and try CPR in an emergency circumstances, because while it was already too late for his brother, it may in the future help bring someone else back from the brink.