BRAVE FAM­ILY WHO LIVE Two of our kids have died from a rare heart con­di­tion & the other 6 could go at any sec­ond. They’re all a...

The People - - NEWS FEATURES & - By Grace Ma­caskill

THE Un­der­wood fam­ily live ev­ery day as if it is their last – be­cause they know it could be.

Dot­ing par­ents Mag­gie and Rob have lost two chil­dren in three years to a rare heart con­di­tion.

And now they live with the knowl­edge that it might claim the lives of their six oth­ers at any time.

All their chil­dren have in­her­ited a tick­ing time­bomb which could cause their hearts to ex­plode, even though the par­ents do not suf­fer from it them­selves.

The Un­der­wood chil­dren have left medics as­tounded that so many sib­lings suf­fer from a ge­netic con­di­tion so rare there are fewer than 200 cases in the UK.

This time of year brings back mem­o­ries of the loss of daugh­ter Char­lotte at 16 and Craig, who was 17.

Both died sud­denly from lit­tle-known vas­cu­lar Eh­lers-Dan­los syn­drome, yet the rest of the fam­ily are de­ter­mined not to dwell in the shadow of the con­di­tion.

Mag­gie, 44, said: “When we were first told the chil­dren could all die young I was heart­bro­ken.

“There are no words to de­scribe it. It’s like be­ing in a dark hole. There were a lot of tears and it was hard to pick my­self up again, but it’s some­thing that strangely you learn to live with.

“The enor­mity of it is al­most too much so we don’t spend our days mop­ing around, talk­ing about ‘what ifs’. We want to en­joy what fam­ily time we have.”

The deaths of Char­lotte and Craig were put down to sud­den death syn­drome but tests later showed their sib­lings all had a con­di­tion they had never heard of.

The fam­ily were told Christo­pher, 25, Caro­line, 24, Car­rick, 19, and Cameron, 17, were at risk of early death be­cause their hearts could rup­ture.

Mitchell, six, and Poppy, five, will not be tested un­til they are teens, when the con­di­tion rears its head. But doctors have warned they are also likely to carry the gene which causes the prob­lem.

Amaz­ingly, at the Un­der­woods’ home in Red­ditch, Worcs, life goes on as nor­mal. Youngest son Mitchell runs around play­ing hide and seek be­hind the sofa while sis­ter Poppy colours and talks about her ted­dies and dolls. But a poignant nt note is sounded as Mag­gie and Rob b talk about the pain of los­ing Char­lotte te five days be­fore Christ­mas in 2010 – and Mitchell sud­denly pipes up: p: “I was wait­ing to be born when she he died.”

Mag­gie ie says they have ex­plained to the lit­tle it­tle ones how their big broth­ers s and sisters have “poorly hearts” and t r i ed t o keep Char­lotte otte and Craig “part of us”. Mag­gie, ag­gie, who was as 35 weeks preg­nant with ith Mitchell when Char­lotte died, says: “She went so sudde sud­denly. “Charl “Char­lotte com­plained of feel­ing p poorly and the doc­tor sus­pecte sus­pected mumps. “Next day she was strug­gling for breath and said her chest wa was sore. As Rob called 999 she stopped breath­ing and I had to give CPR as the op­er­a­tor talked ta me through it – it was just a aw­ful. “The pa paramedics took her for re­sus­ci­ta­tion resu at hos­pi­tal but sh she never made it. “I will w never for­get the mo­ment mom one of the doc doctors turned to us an and said, ‘ You need to call it, you need to tell us to stop work­ing on her’.”

The cou­ple were told Char­lotte had died from a heart-re­lated con­di­tion and, with the ar­rival of Mitchell, were forced to try to get on with their lives.

But in honour of Char­lotte – “a real Daddy’s girl” – they be­gan rais­ing money to put de­fib­ril­la­tors in lo­cal schools.

Three years later, in 2013, Christ­mas was also shrouded in tragedy when Craig’s heart ex­ploded as he walked to a youth club on De­cem­ber 10.

He was still alive when he was taken to hos­pi­tal but he could not be saved.

Tear­ful Rob says: “Craig called an am­bu­lance him­self. He was say­ing to the con­troller, ‘Please find me, I’m go­ing to be with my sis­ter’.” On De­cem­ber 5, 2015

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