‘I kissed my husband goodbye – and that was the last time I ever saw him’

  • london
  • May 1, 2023
  • Comments Off on ‘I kissed my husband goodbye – and that was the last time I ever saw him’
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‘He was found slumped in the driver’s seat, with the engine still running,’ says Jill Sims, 55. ‘A passer-by phoned for help, but nothing could be done.’

Jill’s husband of 27 years, Dave, had been heading to meet his three sons, Nathanial, 25, Josh, 24, and Anthony, 22, in March 2022.

But the dad-of-three never made it to his children. Tragically, the ex-rugby star had a sudden heart attack inside his van.

Jill, from Bradninch in Devon, says: ‘Nothing will bring Dave back but if one person reads this and books a doctor’s appointment, then his story can help save another family from heart break.’

On the outside, Dave seemed fit and healthy. An ex-rugby player, he’d been described as a ‘legend’ of the sport. He played his first professional game aged 14, and played for Gloucester, Exeter Chiefs and Worcester.

Jill and Dave met as teenagers, aged just 19. She says: ‘Dave was the love of my life, the calm one to my livewire, and a gentle giant.’

Dave also achieved an international career, earning caps for England and the Barbarians between 1995 and 1999.

‘I’ve always been super proud of him,’ says Jill. ‘His nickname was ‘R Dad’, and if you were on his team he’d always look after you.’

After hanging up his boots, Dave took on coaching roles at clubs in Somerset, including Taunton and Wellington and Withycombe, before turning his hand to building logistics.

Despite no longer being a professional sportsman, he continued to keep fit. A big dog lover, he was often out walking the dogs, as well as working out in the gym.

But about six months before Dave died, he began experiencing chest pains. At first, he wondered if he’d just pulled a muscle. Jill says: ‘He’d woken up in the early hours of the morning with chest pains. He was perspiring too and I was worried there might have been something wrong with his heart.’

Dave went to his GP, but no cause could be found. So, when Dave’s chest pains started again, he assumed there was nothing wrong. 

Jill said: ‘Dave didn’t complain of pain a lot. He was used to getting ploughed down by a team of people. So, for him to have mentioned it, I knew he must have been in quite a bit of pain. But he thought he was OK, so powered on.’

But on 19 March 2022, the father of three headed out to collect a van before heading to meet his sons in Bristol, where the four were going to collect a cross-training machine.

Speaking of the last time she saw her husband, Jill said: ‘When Dave got back from walking the dogs, we sat and had a coffee, and chatted about collecting the machine.

‘I was dressed to go running. We hugged, kissed and, thankfully, we said ‘love you’ to each other.

‘I turned and waved as I walked into porch, about to leave the house. He turned as he was about to go up the stairs. This was the very last time I saw him.’

Later that day, when Dave didn’t arrive to meet his sons, the boys called Jill. When she tried Dave’s mobile phone, there was no answer. Jill said: ‘We were beginning to worry. This was so unlike him.’

Devastatingly, Dave had suffered a sudden heart attack which led to a cardiac arrest inside his vehicle. Despite the brave efforts of a passer-by who gave CPR, there was nothing that could be done to save Dave. He died aged just 52. 

She said: ‘When the police knocked on my door to tell me, it was the most horrendous moment. 

‘On the outside Dave looked fit and healthy, but sadly his post-mortem revealed he had coronary heart disease.

‘The only comfort was knowing that it happened quickly and that he wouldn’t have been in much pain.’

Dave’s death is a powerful reminder of just how many lives are lost this way. Every eight minutes, someone in the UK dies from coronary heart disease. It is the most common type of heart and circulatory disease and occurs when coronary arteries become narrowed by a build-up of atheroma, a fatty material within their walls.

The pain or discomfort felt from the reduction in blood flow to the heart muscle due to the narrowing is called angina and if a blockage occurs, it can cause a heart attack.

Tragically, in the UK, one in eight men and one in 14 women will die from the condition. 

Now, Jill is raising awareness of heart and circulatory diseases and ran the London marathon earlier this month, raising money for the British Heart Foundation in her husband’s name.

Today, she continues to adjust to life without her husband. She says: ‘Well, it certainly has been full of ups and downs.

‘Emotionally we have all struggled at times, thankfully we have all talked about Dave and reminisced frequently.

‘The support we have had from the rugby family, friends and both families has been amazing. We know that Dave would want us to be as positive as we can as a family, so we have chosen to champion the British Heart Foundation, spread the word, raise sponsorship and awareness.’

Karen McDonnell, senior events manager at the British Heart Foundation (BHF), said: ‘We never fail to be inspired by the incredible stories of our supporters. 

‘Despite her devastating loss, Jill is still lacing up her trainers to take on this epic challenge to help make a difference to those with heart and circulatory diseases and continue to make medical advancements in this area.  

‘Every single step our runners take will power science with the potential to beat heart and circulatory disease. We’re extremely grateful for Jill’s support and can’t wait to cheer her over the finish line.’

There is still time to donate to Jill’s fundraising, via her JustGiving page.

Do you have a story to share?

Get in touch by emailing [email protected].

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