Heartbroken family’s lives ‘changed forever’ after toddler’s sudden unexplained death


The Bowes family, from Lancaster, were left devastated when three-year-old Alexander died on Boxing Day last year from Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood – a rare phenomena which affects roughly one in every 100,000 children worldwide

Little Alexander Bowes was three years old when he died suddenly on Boxing Day last year
Little Alexander Bowes was three years old when he died suddenly on Boxing Day last year

A grief-stricken mum whose toddler died suddenly for unexplained reasons has recalled the moment her family’s life was torn apart.

Emily and Darren Bowes, 34 and 39, had been enjoying Christmas with their two children Alexander, three, and his younger brother Freddie, two, last year – completely unaware of the tragedy set to strike the following day.

Alexander died suddenly on Boxing Day for reasons still unknown – a rare phenomenon called Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood, which causes around one child death per 100,000, Lancashire Live reports.

After taking little Freddie for a walk, Emily returned to a terrifying sight that any parent would dread – blue lights flashing and sirens wailing outside her home in Lancaster, Lancashire.

Shortly after returning, she was given the devastating news of her beloved son’s death.

After taking Alexander’s brother Freddie for a walk, mum Emily returned home to see blue lights flashing outside


Lancs Live/MEN MEDIA)

Emily said: “Alexander was a joyous little boy. He loved cars, Peter Rabbit, spending time with family, being outside. He was just a really cheeky little chap that just lit everybody up.

“He was a little bit unwell on Boxing Day. We had a lovely Christmas day, he was dancing with his younger brother Freddie to the Masked Singer the night before and he had a whole day of opening his presents with Freddie.

“He was just a little bit tired and unwell with on and off tummy bug symptoms. We had a really lovely family Christmas which I’m really grateful for.”

A charity believes one in 40 children die from SUDC each year in the UK alone


Lancs Live/MEN MEDIA)

Emily continued: “On Boxing Day, he’d been a bit unwell but no temperature or anything, nothing particularly serious.

“I went out on a walk with Freddie and came back to police van outside my house went straight to hospital and he died later that evening.”

The charity SUDC UK states that there are currently around 40 children between the age of one and 18 years dying suddenly in the UK every year.

The cause remains unexplained despite thorough investigation including post-mortems – more than young child deaths from traffic accidents, fires or drowning – and the child appearing healthy.

Currently, SUDC UK supports over 1,200 bereaved families across the world, one of which is Emily’s family.

Moments after Alexander’s death was confirmed, Emily, a lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, said she and her husband spent those days walking around in a daze, going through moments no parent even considered would be a reality for them.

Emily said her youngest child was the only reason the couple made it through such a tragic ordeal


Lancs Live/MEN MEDIA)

“You just walk around in a daze to be honest, thankfully our youngest gave us strength and got us out of bed – you end up blocking those early days out, you just exist,” She said.

“You have to go through all of the administrative stuff that you’ll never dream that you have to do as a parent like sorting out the undertaker, communicating with a coroner and waiting for a post-mortem. You don’t expect them to have to happen for a parent as a child, it’s not something I would wish on anybody and having no answers makes it even more unbearable as a thought to have to potentially live with.

“You try not to think about but those early were really hard, it’s all still hard but I guess as time goes on you have to try to learn live around the grief. It’s always there and he’s never far away from our thought with whatever we “re doing he’s always at the front of our mind. I’m actually pregnant as well so I’m expecting another arrival in the next couple of weeks which has been extremely difficult to navigate emotionally.”

Since sharing the news of her son’s death to colleagues and other academics on Twitter, Emily says the wave of support she has received has overwhelmed her and has been one of the things to help her get through these heartbreaking months. Through random acts of kindness, Emily’s memories of Alexander have spread far and wide to other families too.

“The kindness of strangers has been overwhelming, people who have never met us have been doing fundraisers for us, people who have never met us have reached out to send messages. Also, the support has been incredible from the paediatricians, nurses, obstetrics and midwife team at Royal Lancaster Infirmary, our local hospital, and Lancashire Police following Alexander’s death. Emily said.

“One of the things I posted recently that Alexander loved to do was not matter how cold it was, if he saw an ice cream van, that was it, always wanted an ice cream. It must have been one degree outside where we’d taken him to Happy Mount Park in Morecambe and the ice cream truck was there for some reason, I tried to avoid it but he saw it.

“He sat there freezing eating this ice cream. Other people on Twitter say to me and send me a picture of their own children having ice creams for Alexander and that in particular really touched us.”

Months after loosing their son, Emily and Darren have recently begun working with SUDC UK, quickly realizing how important it is to raise awareness and help raise funds to aid research so that more answers can be given to parents in their situation. With the help of family members and locals in the community, they have set up a charity fundraiser in Alexander’s name.

March marks SUDC awareness month and research from the charity states, like SIDS- Sudden infant death syndrome, most SUDC cases occur during the child’s sleep. Unlike SIDS, which has seen a successful decline in some 80% of cases since the early 1990s, SUDC does not yet have any preventative guidance for parents – something that the charity wishes to change urgently through funded research into this category of death.

Over 12,000 research papers have been published on SIDS to date, which has helped pioneer the ‘safer sleep’ guidance crucial to the decline in numbers. Comparatively, fewer than 50 papers worldwide have been published on SUDC.

Niki Speed, Co-Founder and CEO of the chairty said: “SUDC UK is the national charity for this category of death and was so deeply sorry to learn about the tragic loss of Alexander. Sudden Unexplained Death in Childhood (SUDC) is the sudden and unexpected death of a child aged 1-18 years where the cause of death remains unexplained after a thorough investigation.

“There is limited awareness and research to understand SUDC and currently, no-one can predict or prevent these deaths. They continue to devastate families year on year.

“We are so grateful to everyone who warmly supports Alexander’s family. SUDC UK is incredibly grateful to Emily for her efforts to raise awareness of SUDC and thank all those who are kindly raising funds or donating in Alexander’s memory. If we all begin to speak about SUDC more and research is appropriately funded, there is such potential to prevent these tragic deaths in the future.”

This Friday (March 25), a ‘Night of Music’ is being held to raise money for SUDC UK. Host in Christ Church on Meadows Avenue in Thornton, Emily’s dad Paul Cooper will be playing with his band de el-Thornton Cleveley’s Band dedicated music performances to his grandson de el. More details on the night and where you can donate are on the fundraising page.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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