‘Matthew’s death still doesn’t feel real’

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The sudden death of 39-year-old Matthew Thompson, who collapsed and died while out running near a local beauty spot a few weeks ago, shocked the Province and left a huge hole in the lives of his loved ones, especially his partner Lauren McCaughtry, who is now fundraising to equip the Lagan towpath, where her boyfriend of four years lost his life, with defibrillators, in the hope they might save someone else’s. LAURA MCMULLAN reports

The day that Lisburn woman Lauren McCaughtry’s life changed forever was one that started out like any other regular Saturday.

The 28-year-old woke up in the home she shared with her partner, 39-year-old Matthew Thompson, who told her of his plans to go and exercise.

After that, the couple, who had been together for just over three years, hoped to go into town to pick up some last minute bits and pieces for their holidays to France, where they were due to fly to last Monday (June 20).

One of their friends was getting married in Bordeaux, and keen photographer Matthew had been looking forward to taking the photos.

They were just like any other, happy couple; they had met through their jobs in Marks & Spencer, as friends first, before developing into something more.

Matthew was a food hall manager at the Forestside store while Lauren worked as a manager at the Sprucefield store.

In their free time, Lauren says, they enjoyed going out for dinner, for walks, to the cinema, and just “every day things.”

They were just like any normal couple, but on Saturday June 11, their lives were ripped apart, after fitness fanatic Matthew collapsed on the Lagan towpath whilst out running, and died.

A coroner’s report found that he had been suffering from an enlarged heart, which had gone undiagnosed. And now, in a bid to keep his memory alive, and help prevent further similar deaths happening, Lauren has embarked on a mission to raise money for defibrillators along the path where the man she loved lost his life, in the hope that these life-saving devices might one day prevent such a tragedy from happening again.

“Matthew was so fun-loving, always great fun to be around, warm and friendly, and would do anything for anybody,” she says.

“He would have helped anyone; at his funeral so many people came up to me and said how much he had helped them.

“He was passionate about his job, he always wanted to push harder to be the best, to be number one. I was going through photos the other night of us and we were just always smiling and laughing, living life to the full I guess.

“He started going to the gym after his stepfather died about two years ago. It was a bit of relief for him.”

Lauren says that as was typical of Matthew and his constant striving to better himself, he was keen to shave minutes off his time, and was soon out running twice a week.

Normally, he liked to visit Wallace Park in Lisburn, but on this particular morning, after having been shown some of the attractive sights along the towpath by Lauren, he decided to change his running route and go there instead.

“I said to him, sure stay at home, but he said, ‘no, I watched the football last night and I ate so much rubbish, I’m going to have to go and run this off.’

“He had planned to go to the gym, but must have decided to go to the towpath at the last minute, probably because it was a sunny morning.”

She adds: “I have thought about this thousands of times. Should I have stopped him from going on his run? But it was such a normal morning.”

Lauren decided to jump into the shower so that she would be ready for her boyfriend when he returned, and they could go into town as planned.

Sadly, it was a police car that pulled up at their home, and not Matthew’s.

“I had that initial oh my goodness, what has happened reaction; had someone jumped him on the towpath? Had he crashed the car?” she relates.

“The police came in and checked that he lived here, and who I was and then said he had died. It didn’t feel real. It still doesn’t.”

Lauren decided that she needed to ensure some good came out of the loss of Matthew’s life. She set up a Just Giving page with the aim of raising enough cash to purchase a defibrillator for the towpath.

She knew that she needed to aim for £1,500 to buy one. But just a few hours after launching her brave bid, she was left open-mouthed in shock when her sister told her that over £5,000 had been donated already.

“It had just snowballed,” she says, admitting as well that having something like this to focus on has helped her in some ways to try and cope with her grief.

“What is really difficult,” she says, “is when you are at home, in the evening, or you’re doing something that you should have been doing together. When you’re actually dealing with the reality, and what my reality is.”

Lauren says that Matthew was “super fit and super well”; he never had any health complaints nor reason to visit his doctor. She adds that the symptoms of having an enlarged heart include tiredness and headaches, but he never demonstrated any of these on a level that was beyond normal.

“I think a lot of people are thinking that this could have been them,” she says, when asked why she believes there has been such a strong response to her defibrillator campaign. I think this definitely is a reality check for so many people, and they want to keep a piece of him alive.

“At the minute we’re hopefully going to be able to afford four or five, which would be really amazing. We also want to get a bench so that we have a place to go to as his family and friends.”

She adds that the outpouring of support since Matthew’s death is testament to how loved and highly thought of he was. Matthew had an impact on everyone around him.’