Two years ago, teenager Joe Dale died after an asthma attack. Now his grieving parents want to warn others of the dangers. Catherine Scott reports.
It should have been one of the happiest weekends of Joe Dale’s life. He had just sat his final GCSE exam, he was 16, looking forward to his school prom and the exciting future that lay ahead.
It was one of the hottest weekends of the year and Joe headed to his friend’s house and they went to the local playing fields, to make the most of their newfound freedom.
He didn’t realise the pollen count was sky-high that June day two years ago, or what devastating effect that might have on him. Later that evening, Joe, from Barnsley, collapsed at his friend’s house.
Paramedics and Joe’s parents, Helena and Jon, rushed to the scene and the air ambulance was called to take him to hospital where he was admitted into intensive care.
“We got a call from Joe’s friend saying he had stopped breathing,” recalls Helena. “When we got to his friend’s house the air ambulance was there and paramedics were trying to save him.”
But doctors were unable to save the teenager. Six days after he was admitted, Joe died from what doctors believe was a severe asthmatic reaction to pollen. Although he had his inhaler with him it didn’t seem to work. In the midst of their pain, Jon and Helena made the selfless decision to donate Joe’s organs to help others.
“We knew he would have wanted that,” says Helena. “He was such a kind and thoughtful person. He died surrounded by his family, on the day of the school prom he had been so looking forward to.”
The family take some comfort from the fact Joe’s organs saved three other people including a boy a year younger than Joe and a father.
“It does help to know his death wasn’t for nothing,” says Helena.
As World Asthma Day approaches on Tuesday , Joe’s parents are keen to raise awareness of the risks of the condition, particularly at this time of year.
They want to see more warnings for asthma sufferers when the pollen count is high.
“You get warnings for hayfever sufferers but not for asthma sufferers, which can be far more dangerous,” says Helena.
Joe began suffering from asthma around the age of five. He had needed to be hospitalised after his first asthma attack at the age of 12, but his asthma was normally worse in the winter.
His condition lessened as he got older – the only other attack he suffered was the fatal one that happened that June day.
Joe had inhalers to use as and when he needed them, but he enjoyed playing sport, particularly football, and he loved go-karting and dreamed of being a Formula 1 engineer.
He competed in national kart competitions with the support of his dad at tracks across the UK and was a regular racer at his local kart track in Wombwell.
When the GCSE results were released that summer, Joe’s family discovered he had achieved great results in all his subjects including some A*s.
He was due to go into Penistone Grammar’s sixth form a few weeks later and had plans to go to university. But his name lives on through his family and many friends. A crowdfunding campaign launched after his death by fellow karters to raise £1,500 to help support Joe’s family more than doubled its target.
At the time organiser Donna Baines said: “No money can ever replace Joe but helping his family and making his memory live on is something we can do.”
Last August Joe would have been travelling to Mozambique to carry out three weeks of charity work with the World Challenge Organisation, which was organised through his school. His younger brother Matt, now 14, is now going in his memory next year.
“Matt has lost his brother and his best friend and that is really hard,” says Helena. The family say although Joe’s death was devastating it was helped by staff at Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice. “One of the donor nurses asked if we would like to go with Joe to Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice,” recalls Helena. “We didn’t understand what she was saying. It was too late for the hospice to care for him; we had already lost him.
“But she explained the hospice, at North Anston near Rotherham, had two special suites where families can stay with their children after death.
“So we came with Joe to Bluebell Wood and stayed with him in the hospice’s Primrose Suite. It gave us precious time to come to terms with Joe’s death and to say our goodbyes slowly, under our own terms.”
Jon, Helena and Matt stayed at the hospice and his sister, Abbie, 23, was free to visit as often as she wanted.
“The team at Bluebell Wood took care of us. Having him with us made such a difference.”
The Dale family have become loyal fund-raisers for Bluebell Wood, A charity football fun day held close to Joe’s 18th birthday last year raised more than £7,500 split between Bluebell Wood, Yorkshire Air Ambulance, Asthma UK and Barnsley Hospital Charity.
Last month Abbie completed a skydive, raising nearly £2,500 for Bluebell Wood.
“I wanted to give something back to Bluebell Wood as they continue to support me and my family through the most horrendous time that will stay with us forever. Joe was such a lovely funny boy. We were always laughing and joking,” says Abbie.
“It doesn’t seem real that he’s gone, I don’t think it ever will. I miss my little brother so much but I feel thankful for the amazing 16 years I had growing up with him. I hope our story can raise enough awareness to prevent another family from experiencing the heartache that will remain with us everyday.”