First day, last goodbye
The death of a London boy who collapsed on the first day of class, stunning his school and jarring the city, was caused by an asthma attack, his mother tells Postmedia News.
Abigail Le is speaking publicly for the first time, a week after her son, Alex, 11, a sixth-grader at Cedar Hollow elementary school in northeast London, collapsed on the first day of school last Tuesday. He died a day later, after being taken off life support.
Le says a tragic mix of excitement from school starting, compounded by recess activity, the day’s muggy weather and the start of allergy season, likely triggered the severe asthma attack.
“Those four combined at that moment,” Le said, adding the boy used his puffer, but it failed to stop the asthma attack.
“He asked one of his friends to tell the teacher because his puffer wasn’t working.”
Dying of asthma is exceedingly rare, with only about 250 Canadians dying each year from the chronic disease that causes airways to swell, blocking the flow of air to the lungs.
Hundreds turned out for weekend visitations and Alex’s funeral Monday, Le said, including many former and current teachers, even people who didn’t know him.
“The teachers said Alex was the type of student that every teacher wants. He is very sweet, understanding and loving,” she said.
Tuesday, she shared sweet memories of the boy who she says loved to cuddle and had an unusual dream for life as a grown-up.
“For Mother's Day, he bought me a bracelet with two hearts. He said, ‘Mommy, I got a good discount because the lady thought I was so cute,' ” she said. “I keep wearing it — this is the last thing he bought me and he was so proud. It's priceless.”
As for the future, he had an unexpected plan, his mother recalled.
“I always asked him, ‘Well, what do you want to do when you grow up — I know you like sports, do you want to play hockey or something like that?' ” Le said. “He said, ‘No mom, you silly — I can't even breathe — I want to be a garbage man.'”
The reason for his choice, she said, was because garbage men “meet a lot of different people and they get to clean up people's mess.”
Abigail Le shares custody of her two sons with their father, Minh Le. He also shared warm memories of his boy with The Free Press Tuesday.
“He was very sweet and usually quite upbeat,” he said. “He was very energetic and always happy.”
Three months before school started, they visited a specialist who said his lung capacity was considerably less than a normal child, Abigail Le said, but Alex loved playing outside and rarely complained.
Both Alex and his brother, Aidan, now 15, were born with asthma, their mother says. Alex's asthma attacks, however, grew more serious
He loved his bike and was always outside
and could be triggered just by laughing or eating if he was tired, she said.
“That didn't stop him. He was a kid, he loved life,” she said. “He would tell me, ‘I am so mad at my asthma because I want to play to soccer, I want to play basketball.' ”
Last month, she bought him a bike and taught him to ride it. He told her he didn't want summer to end.
“He loved his bike and was always outside," she recalled. "Every time, he wanted to spend more time playing.”
The stunning at-school tragedy hit Le about 2 p.m. on the first day of class, when she got a phone call saying her boy was having a medical emergency. She says she arrived at hospital to see her son surrounded by doctors and nurses trying to revive him.
“I never imagined seeing my son like this,” she said. “The doctor kept saying, 'I'm sorry, I'm so sorry.' You never want a doctor telling you this.”
Doctors, she said, told her Alex had been without oxygen to his brain for 55 minutes, during which teachers and then paramedics tried to revive him. Alex died the next evening, after being taken off life support.
The death rocked his school and sparked an outpouring of grief, Amanda Feeser, head of Cedar Hollow's school council, said last week. Stuffed animals and flowers were left near the school's flagpole as a tribute to Alex and board officials said counselors were available to assist students and staff.
Abigail Le says she believes teachers, paramedics and hospital staff did the best they could and she isn't pushing for an investigation into what happened.
Of her son, she said simply, “He's at peace.”
Alex Le, 11, a London sixth-grader who died last week after a severe asthama attack on the first day of school, is being remembered as a sweet, happy and energetic youngster “who loved life,” his mother says.