When Cameron O’Brien learned he had been accepted in an exchange program at the University of Connecticut in the USA, he was excited that all the hard work and sacrifices he’d made had paid off. He was off to the ‘States’ and all that it had to offer: academic opportunity and ... American sport!
In his 4th year of a commerce law degree at the University of Wollongong, Cameron had achieved outstanding results that were to pave the way for the next phase of his life.
A strong, healthy young man growing up in a beachside suburb of Sydney, as a nipper Cameron was a member of the local surf club as well as being a talented left-handed A1 tennis player. Cameron had a wide group of friends and enjoyed life to the full.
At 21, Cameron O’Brien was a young man with the world at his feet until that fateful day in July 2012. Six weeks before he was due to depart for the US, Cameron died in his sleep.
Cameron had only ever had two seizures during sleep, some eleven months earlier. A diagnosis of epilepsy followed with medication prescribed. Life went on. Accepting he could be a little forgetful, Cameron used the alarm on his phone to remind him to take his medication. Living at home with us ensured that he was reminded as well. He took his epilepsy seriously and did not have any further seizures until it would become clear that the third seizure was fatal.
The days leading up to his death, Cameron spent studying for exams – not much time for anything else. The night before was an ordinary family mid-week night. Finding him the next morning looking like he had just dropped off to sleep as soon as his head hit the pillow, but soon realising that he had in fact died during the night, was devastating. We were never told that epilepsy carried a risk of death. We were never told about the risks, about SUDEP.
When Cameron’s class graduated in December 2013, the University of Wollongong awarded his degrees posthumously.
Coming to terms with Cameron’s passing has been difficult for all the family. We take comfort in the fact that a scholarship has been set up in Cameron’s name at the University of Wollongong acknowledging his academic achievements, an annual memorial bike ride dedicated to Cameron’s memory is raising awareness of SUDEP in the community and from the funds raised, Epilepsy Australia has established an annual research and education grant in Cameron’s honour. Sensitive and kind, Cameron had a real sense of social justice. In death Cameron’s values live on.
We are left to wonder what would have been.
The O’Brien Family
Global Conversation 2014