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Family runs in memory of teenage son

After losing their teenage son to sudden cardiac death, the Poupouare family is celebrating his life by raising money for the Heart Foundation.

Elliot Poupouare was just 17 years old when his heart stopped beating. Four years after his tragic death, his family is raising money for heart research in his memory.

Elliot’s mum Sue says her son was a keen sportsman, and this has prompted the whole family to compete in sports events on his behalf – including being Heart Racers in this year’s Auckland Marathon.

“We found out that a lot of research has gone into Sudden Cardiac Death but more funding is needed,” says Sue. 

“We chose to be Heart Racers because Elliot had run the half (with only one training run beforehand!), and he had intended to run the marathon in 2011. He was very fit and also competitive, especially with his dad.”

Since losing Elliot in 2011, the Poupouare family have raised over $4000 for the Heart Foundation by running as Heart Racers in previous events. 

This year, Sue is running the half marathon while sisters Katy and Rachel are running 12km. Robert is cycling around lake Taupo as part of Team Elliot, and competed in the Coast to Coast in his son’s honour in 2012.

Sue says it was years before a reason for her son’s sudden death was discovered.

“His heart just stopped beating while he was laughing with friends.”

While he had experienced fainting and a racing heart in the month before he passed away, he hadn’t spoken much of it as he always quickly felt better.

“After his death we waited three months and then got the pathologist report, which concluded he had died from sudden cardiac death, from an unknown arrhythmogenic disorder,” says Sue, referring to a condition where there is a defect that affects the heart’s rhythm.

“We found out that this phenomenon is rare, but all too real for those of us who have lost a child to this.”

As such disorders can be hereditary, the family was tested to see if their own DNA would reveal a genetic link to what Elliot experienced – but nothing was discovered.

“It was explained to us that lots of new research is coming out on these disorders of the rhythm of the heart, and they might contact us in a year or 10 years to say they have found something.”

Then in 2015, four years after Elliot’s death, a genetic mutation was discovered in his DNA – an extra protein molecule on one gene, which has been linked to a rare heart condition called Long QT syndrome, Type 11.

The family is still waiting on results to see if they carry the same genetic mutation.

Sue says her son was a hilarious, caring person who wanted to be a social worker. 

“Elliot was always up for a party, so we have kept that tradition going with large birthdays and his 21st last year was awesome. We have coped by always celebrating his life.”

Sue says being a Heart Racer is another chance to remember Elliot and raise money for a good cause, but she’s not concerned with the competitive side of the race.

“I'm going to finish but don’t ask me my time – for me it’s not a race, I'm doing it for my boy.”