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Father's 18th birthday tribute to son Ben Hammond, 15, who died of heart condition

A father whose "fit and active" teenage son died suddenly from a heart condition wants all parents to get their children screened for defects.

Steve Hammond from High Halden, near Tenterden, has spoken out in the week in which his son Ben would have turned 18, in the hope of saving others from the agony his family has endured.

Ben died just over a week after his 15th birthday and a day after enjoying a celebratory cycling treat with friends at Betteshanger Park, near Deal.

Fit and active Ben, pictured with his bike (13123178)
Fit and active Ben, pictured with his bike (13123178)

He had gone to bed complaining of feeling sick and was later admitted to the William Harvey Hospital, where within hours he died from an undiagnosed heart condition in July 2016.

Steve said: "It would have been Ben's 18th birthday on June 24 and we should have been celebrating him becoming an adult."

Water services manager Steve, who is married to Sheralyn and has a younger son Archie, 13, said the occasion would have definitely meant supping a celebratory pint in favourite watering hole The Six Bells at Woodchurch.

In a message to parents he said: "Ben was fit and active, so don't assume that just because your children appear fit and healthy it means there is nothing wrong, but with a simple test a potential problem could be solved and a life saved."

Ben appeared well before the tragedy struck (13123243)
Ben appeared well before the tragedy struck (13123243)

Since Ben's death, Team Ben Hammond (TBH), was set up in his memory to raise funds to offer free heart screening tests for young people in association with Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY).

TBH members have raised thousands of pounds through fundraisers including marathon runs, cake sales and beer festivals, to fund screening programmes for people between 14-35 years old, which have been carried out at Homewood School, Tenterden, and are open to anyone in the age category. Screening is not routinely available on the NHS.

Steve initially thought that raising £2,000 for a London Marathon place might be a struggle, but the marathon fundraising page set up by TBH runners Phil Sweatman and Nick Vincent, amassed donations of £6,150.

Steve Hammond wants more young people's hearts to be tested (13128880)
Steve Hammond wants more young people's hearts to be tested (13128880)

Within six months the team had raised £8,500 to carry out its first screening programme with CRY and the cash kept rolling in. Steve said: "The support we've had from the community has been simply amazing."

The first two screening programmes at Homewood School in April 2018 saw 198 young people tested. Steve said: "Eight young people were referred for further investigations having been found to have previously undiagnosed conditions.

"This made all our efforts seem worthwhile; to think that we had possibly saved lives through our fundraising and that it would mean that other families wouldn't have to go through what myself, Sheralyn, Archie and our extended family and friends, not forgetting Ben's friends had to go through.

Ben's family had no idea of his heart condition (13123189)
Ben's family had no idea of his heart condition (13123189)

"We knew what we were doing was the right thing to do, and to be honouring Ben at the same time and making sure that we had made something positive from this tragedy, spurred us on to continue."

This year another three screening sessions have been conducted, identifying three young people who were referred for further heart investigations.

Steve continued: "In total we have screened 472 young people and 11 of them have been referred. We have another three screening days booked for 2020 and are about to book another three for 2021."

He added: "We didn't know these simple tests were available and I certainly wish we had Ben checked out, but it's too late now that's why, for Team Ben Hammond, raising awareness is just as important as raising funds."

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