Danny Jones died after suffering a cardiac arrest just minutes after being substituted during a game last year.
Lizzie Jones, Widow of Danny Jones (right), leaves the pitch with her children after singing Abide with Me before the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup Final at Wembley Stadium.
The widow of a professional rugby league player who died after collapsing during a game has described how the loss “devastated” her family.
Welsh international Danny Jones suffered a cardiac arrest just minutes after feeling unwell during a match between Keighley Cougars and London Skolars last May. The 29-year-old was transferred by air ambulance to the Royal Free Hospital in London but doctors could do nothing to save him.
Hereditary heart disease
A post-mortem examination revealed the cardiac arrest was caused by a previously undetected hereditary heart disease.
His devastated wife Lizzie Jones, who sang a moving rendition of Abide With Me in memory of Danny at the Challenge Cup final at Wembley, spoke poignantly of her loss as she called for more research to spot inherited heart conditions.
Lizzie Jones sings Abide with Me before the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, London
Lizzie said: “I knew I was going to marry Danny from the first time we went out.
“Losing him that day devastated our family.
“It just didn’t occur to me that a seemingly fit and healthy athlete like Danny could ever be struck down with a heart condition.
“It goes to show that it can happen to anyone.”
'I wanted to tell Danny's story'
Professional singer Lizzie admitted raising the couple’s baby twins, Bobby and Phoebe, without Danny’s help was one of her biggest challenges.
She added: “In future they will be tested for the inherited condition that Danny died of. “I just hope that by telling Danny’s story more support will be given to finding new treatments for these conditions that could one day benefit my children.”
danny jones keighley and wales rugby star who suffered a fatal heart attack during the poses with his 5 months of twins he left behind and also widow lizzie jones
Research has shown that an estimated 12 apparently fit and healthy people aged 35 and under die of an undiagnosed heart condition each week in the UK.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF) estimates more than 6,000 people are born each year in the UK with a genetic fault that puts them at a high risk of suffering from an inherited heart condition which could lead to a heart attack or cardiac arrest.
Half a million have genetic defect
The heart charity says in the UK as many as one in 120 people are born with a faulty gene which could lead to potentially deadly conditions such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and familial hypercholesterolemia.
It means in the UK as many as 500,000 people are living with one of these genetic defects.
Funeral of Keighley Cougers player Danny Jones at St Mary's RC Church, Halifax. 22nd May 2015. Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe.
Professor Peter Weissberg, medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “We urgently need to accelerate research into inherited heart conditions that take the lives of hundreds of young people in the UK every year, often without warning.
“Our research has helped make great progress in identifying some of the gene defects that cause these heart conditions and as a result genetic testing is now available for many people with a family history of an inherited heart disease. However many of the causative defects remain undiscovered.
“We urgently need people’s support to enable us to fund more research into these gene defects so that patients at risk can be identified before they have a serious cardiac event and so that we can work towards developing treatments to neutralise the effects of the faulty gene.”
The most common cause of sudden unexpected death in childhood and in young athletes is a condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM).
It is estimated that 120,000 people are living with HCM in the UK, most of whom are undiagnosed.
Danny Jones of Wales in action during the Four Nations match between Wales and New Zealand at Wembley Stadium on November 5, 2011
However research led by BHF professor Mathias Gautel from King’s College London is helping to discover how changes in genes can lead to faulty heart proteins that can cause the condition.
Prof Gautel and his team are using state-of-the-art technologies to discover how changes to specialised proteins which create the heart’s powerful contractions can cause the heart to fail.
Prof Gautel said: We’ve already made great progress into understanding how heart muscle proteins work to help the heart to beat.
“By continuing our research looking at exactly what goes wrong with these proteins, some of which are yet poorly understood, we hope to be able to design new ways to treat people with this often life-threatening disease.”