Meet the Portsmouth woman who suffered a double tragedy and vows to bring free heart screening to our region
‘It shook me to my core. But I’m still living and have to make the most of my life.’ Those are the words of Kim Beecher – the Portsmouth woman vowing to bring free heart screening to the city after losing both her mum and brother to heart attacks.
‘Losing my mum and brother so young was just awful,’ she sighs. ‘I don’t want any family to go through what we have.’
The determined 27-year-old grew up in Denmead with her mum Philomena, dad Kevin and siblings Jacqui, Danny and Simon.
‘My mum was always bubbly. There were always four or five family members in the house. It was always filled with people,’ reminisces Kim.
Kim was just 16 years old when Philomena became ill in 2007. At the time, she and her younger brother Danny were told she may have pneumonia when, in reality, doctors were suspecting heart problems.
Kim says: ‘Mum went into QA hospital and we saw her – she looked tired but was still bubbly and her normal self.’
The Beecher family had no idea it would be the last time they would see her alive.
‘At 3am the next morning, my dad rushed out the house and we didn’t know what was going on. We thought something may have happened to my grandad because he was already in hospital. Later, when Simon and I arrived at QA, I remember thinking, “I’m on the wrong floor for grandad”. Ahead of me, I saw mum’s room and the lamp was on. I went to walk in but was stopped.’
It was then a nurse broke the news that Philomena, who was just 45 years old, had died from multiple heart attacks.
‘I felt completely disorientated’, says Kim. ‘I burst into tears and my dad was hugging me. I looked up and everyone was white in the face. I remember doing things and saying things I didn’t feel in control of’.
Before leaving the hospital, Kim and one of her brothers said goodbye to their mum. But it wasn’t until she got home the nightmare began sinking in as reality.
‘I saw mum’s car and it hit me that she wasn’t coming home. I froze outside the house. I didn’t know what to say and I was so scared.’
Three days later, Kim’s grandad died. In 2007 she lost three family members.
After losing her mum, Kim says she went ‘into her shell’.
‘I didn’t really socialise at college and don’t have any friends from when I was 16-18. My dad was so strong. He’s my best friend.’
After college, Kim went on to study photography at the University for the Creative Arts, Farnham.
‘I realised after my mum died that she was always the one taking the pictures – she was never in them. For her funeral we had about two photographs of her. For me, it was about capturing moments.’
After graduating Kim says she ‘floated around’ for a while, working as a fire performer, pub manager and eventually for Source a Mortgage, Southsea.
On March 26, 2016 – a date vividly stuck in Kim’s mind – her brother Simon woke up completely stiff the day after their dad Kevin’s wedding to his new wife.
‘He couldn’t move,’ says Kim. ‘His girlfriend Lucy tried to wake him and once he was at the hospital they said they thought his heart had stopped. But no one knew what had really happened,’ she explains. Simon recovered and the siblings became closer.
Simon, a chef, who lived in Chichester with his fiancée Lucy, were excitedly planning their August 2018 wedding and looking forward to his future.
He had a couple more episodes but Kim says he was still his normal bubbly self.
It’s hard to imagine what it must feel like to lose one loved one.But two weeks before his wedding, Simon – who was just 31 years old – died from a heart attack at home.
‘Simon’s best friend rang me and told me that Simon was no longer with us. But I didn’t process what he saidm,’ says Kim. ‘He said “Simon’s gone” and I thought, “where has he gone?” ‘He wasn’t on medication so it didn’t click that something may have happened to him.
‘I said down the phone: “Are you telling me my brother is dead?”
‘I didn’t even have a thought process when I heard the answer. I just needed to get my family together,’ says Kim.
By 6.30am the next day, Kim was back at her desk at work.
She says that she needed to carry on with normal life and felt too busy to grieve properly. It was only when she went to see Simon’s body that what had happened hit home.
‘I was completely in denial until I saw him. When I leaned down to kiss him goodbye I realised how cold he was. And I thought “this isn’t him, he’s not here anymore”.’
Sadly, Kim says death is something she thinks about constantly. A couple of months after Simon’s funeral she attended bereavement counselling sessions.
The actual heart defect Simon and Philomena had is not known, but Kim and her father will be tested soon to see if they have it and to get a diagnosis.
She was signposted to the Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) charity who encouraged her to think about fundraising.
Kim says: ‘We talked about bringing a screening facility for Portsmouth to detect heart conditions in young people. That’s now my goal.
‘I want to go back to my own city and say “let’s get tested and make sure you’re safe”.
‘I don’t want any family to go through what we have.
‘If you don’t know you have it and then find it, you can do something about it early,’ she says.
Kim is hosting The Beecher Charity Ball at the Dockyard Club, Southsea, in August to kickstart fundraising for the £8,000 needed for a screening facility in the city.
‘We want to fund a free heart screening session for young people in the Portsmouth area to help prevent these problems for other families.
‘It’s our way of giving something back to the city where we lived, loved and laughed together. A community we love and a charity who supported us after our tragic loss.’
For tickets for the ball, search for Kimberley Beecher at eventbrite.co.uk. If you would like to donate to Kim’s screening project, go to justgiving.com/fundraising/the-simon-and-philomena-beecher-trust-fund.