Family of Derry singer raise awareness of sepsis

Eamon and Colum Friel at a Manchester United match earlier this year.
Eamon and Colum Friel at a Manchester United match earlier this year.

The family of the singer, songwriter and broadcaster Eamon Friel have urged people to be aware of the symptoms of sepsis.

Eamon passed away suddenly in June this year just hours after he had been admitted to hospital.

Eamon Friel pictured with his wife Caitlin and grand-daughter Milla

Eamon Friel pictured with his wife Caitlin and grand-daughter Milla

The highly respected singer, who released his final album just months before he died, had been diagnosed with cancer and underwent a five day course of radiotherapy.

He died just weeks later from sepsis.

Sepsis is a life-threatening reaction to an infection. It occurs when the immune system overreacts to an infection and begins to damage the body’s tissues and organs.

Eamon’s son Colum said that while he was aware of sepsis before his father’s death, he was not aware of all the signs and symptoms.

“I am fairly clued in when it comes to health and fitness, but I didn’t know about the symptoms of sepsis. If I had an inkling about any of this stuff even six months ago I would have got him to hospital earlier and he might have had a chance.”

The Friel family are sharing their story to mark World Sepsis Awareness Day in the hope that another family may pick up on the symptoms earlier.

Colum said his Daddy had been unwell for a couple of months prior to his cancer diagnosis, but like many men of his generation he hid it from his family and did not go to a doctor.

“I think he suspected he may have had cancer and he had been hiding how unwell he was. In March he had what he thought was a flu and a cough which he just couldn’t shift. He was feeling really run down and sluggish, which wasn’t like my Daddy at all,” Colum said.

“As soon as the GP saw my Daddy he sent him to hospital straight away and suspected lung cancer.”

Eamon had a shadow on his lung and further investigations found a tumour on the top three vertebrae of his spine.

There was also a suspected tumour on his leg and he was waiting for the results of a biopsy on this.

“The week after Daddy finished his radiotherapy, I took him for a walk over to Brooke Park and by the time he got through the gate he had to sit down because he was so tired. I did think to myself - is radiotherapy supposed to make you so tired? They did warn us he would be tired, but in hindsight he shouldn’t have been this tired,” Colum said.

“Looking back he was showing signs of sepsis but we didn’t know it. His skin was very cold to touch and mottled. His voice was also very weak, but we put that down to the radiotherapy he had being so close to the throat.”

Eamon did his weekly show on Radio Foyle the night before he died and Colum said he was so exhausted he ‘had to be carried out of the studio’.

“He refused to go to hospital though and told my Mammy to just take him home. He slept downstairs and in the middle of the night my Mammy heard a bang and found him lying in the hallway.”

Eamon was admitted to hospital at around 6am and sadly died four hours later.

“When Daddy got to the hospital he was delirious, his blood pressure dropped and he was disorientated. His organs began to fail and eventually he was diagnosed with sepsis.

“Sepsis can be hard to spot because there are so many symptoms and these can be so similar to the symptoms of other conditions.”

Those at particular risk of contracting sepsis are babies under one, people over 75, people who have diabetes, a weakened immune system or people who have recently had surgery or a serious illness.

“Since Daddy died all I have heard about is sepsis, so many people have been in touch with me to share their story and experience of it,” Colum said. “It can be treated if it is caught early enough.”

The family have taken great comfort from all the tributes paid to Eamon since his passing.

“Radio Foyle did a special tribute to him the day he died and we had that on in the background while we were preparing the house for the wake. It was so surreal.

“His memory will live on forever in his music. He was just obsessed with music and would have sat playing the guitar or the piano for hours in a musical bubble. He also had such a great sense of humour and would have done anything for me, my Mum and Milla (his granddaughter). He is much missed and it is such a shock to have lost him so suddenly.

“I still wake up at night thinking, did that really happen?”

However, Colum said his father would have undoubtedly suffered as a result of the cancer and ‘wouldn’t have wanted that’.

Colum, who is a personal trainer, held a fundraising event in Transition Gym on Saturday to raise funds for the Sepsis Trust. The event has raised over £2,500 so far and a fundraising page remains open.

Colum said this will continue to raise awareness of sepsis.

“I know my Daddy would be very proud I am doing this, so that some other family don’t have to go through what we have.”

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