Community in mourning for James

editorial image

THE heartbroken father of a young Lurgan man has spoken of his family’s devastation after the teenager died suddenly on Tuesday morning.

James McGeown (18) suffered a severe asthma attack at home but sadly didn’t survive.

Family and friends are in shock following the sudden passing of the teenager who was from Portland Manor.

His father Stephen McGeown described how he had heard his son gasping for breath in the early hours of Tuesday morning and went into his bedroom to help him.

James had been ill since he was born and was diagnosed with asthma when he was just a year old.

Mr McGeown said he heard his son in difficulties around 3.30am.

“He hadn’t a breath and was on the nebuliser and it wasn’t doing any good. The nebuliser wasn’t helping. Then he just blacked out, slumped down on the bed. I rang the ambulance and put him on the hard floor and they were instructing me over the phone what to do.

“He died in front of me. He said to me, ‘I’m dying, I’m dying’. I was giving him CPR and mouth to mouth and then my brother was here and he’s a nurse and he worked on him for an hour. Respiratory arrest and then cardiac arrest, they said.

“It happened before when he was nine. He got to Craigavon, then he was sent straight to the Royal. They showed us the rubber dummy and how to work it and do CPR. A top doctor then said ‘Mr McGeown, it’s not that it might happen again but it will happen again - so be prepared’. And that was nine years ago.”

So popular was James, thousands of people have already paid tribute to him on a special Facebook page set up in his memory.

James, a former pupil of Tannaghmore Primary School, St Paul’s Junior High School and St Michael’s, is the son of Stephen and Ruth McGeown. He had an older brother Sean aged 22, a younger sister Ellie (13) and little brother Stephen (7).

He was a very popular teenager both at school and through his voluntary work with Cooperation Ireland in recent years.

“He had the gift of the gab like myself. He was very smart. Things stuck in his head. But he didn’t like school. He was going to school with a nebuliser and every odd week the school would ring that he had an asthma attack and to take him home. He was missing his studying and missing his exams. It was his ill health that affected his education,” said his dad Stephen.

However, James had plans to be a youth worker and was very passionate about his youth activities.

“I was very proud of him. He wasn’t money mad, he wasn’t greedy. He would have given you anything,” said James’ dad.

“He had good hands too for making things. He had great ideas and very creative,” he said.

“He went to a big aquarium in London working there for a week. And they were talking about maybe next year going to Amsterdam and South Africa,” said his father.

Mr McGeown said his son was interested in survival techniques and read lots of books on how to survive in the outdoors. “He got books and he started to copy things from the books. He made weapons and tools, not for maiming or killing, just because he was creative and enjoyed it. He loved animals and had lots of pets. He had two pet rats, then a big tarantula, then a lizard then a pet snake. He didn’t just want ordinary pets. He loved exotic pets.”

Principal of St Michael’s Grammar School, Mr Gerry Adams said: “The staff and students of St. Michael’s are deeply saddened to hear of the sudden death of James who attended the school between 2009 and 2011. James was always a pleasant and co-operative student and there was plenty of evidence of underlying ability but his academic progress was severely hampered even at that stage by the severity of his asthma attacks.

“The death of James following so soon after the recent death of Mark Toland, another past pupil of St. Michael’s who died suddenly from an asthma attack, brings home to all of us the real danger of an illness which often strikes us as being minor or insignificant.

“James is remembered with great fondness by his friends and colleagues in Year 14 and by his teachers. He will be sadly missed by all. May he rest in peace.”

James McGeown’s funeral is today (Thursday) from his grandparents’ home at 26 Levin Road, Lurgan at 11.45am to St Peter’s Church, Lurgan for 12.30pm Requiem Mass. He will be buried afterwards in St Coleman’s Cemetery.