Darren died on January 14, 2015 of natural causes: a sudden and fatal heart attack. He was found to have Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular disease. His left anterior descending artery was 95% blocked and the left side of his heart was enlarged causing Left Ventricular Hypertrophy, which must have been worsening for several years.
Contrary to newspaper reports at the time, Darren had no drugs or medications in his body, and only 0.02% BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) to put this into context 0.08% is the BAC Driving Limit for both the US & UK. There are no other medical factors linked to his death.
It seems unlikely that someone as fit as Darren – who was so dedicated to exercise and fitness and had such a healthy low fat/dairy diet – should have heart disease, but we have been told that a genetic predisposition resulted in the development of heart disease and is not uncommon in otherwise healthy young men, including athletes and other professional sportsmen and women*.
Evidence for Darren’s level of physical fitness at the time of his death can be seen in his recent work. Darren had just finished filming Pound of Flesh and Kickboxer: Vengeance, both with Jean-Claude Van Damme – not to mention Tomorrowland with George Clooney. He was, as far as physical fitness goes, at the top of his game.
Darren’s family are devastated that his underlying heart condition was never diagnosed to allow him the opportunity of treatment. Typically, Atherosclerosis begins in childhood, and Darren showed no apparent symptoms prior to death. Who would have thought that Darren who was regarded as very fit would die so suddenly as a result of this ‘silent killer’!
They tell us:
We have all been in shock for the past 12 weeks with so many unanswered questions, but would now like to focus on the lessons that can be learned from Darren’s untimely death. We do feel that Darren would be the first to join us in sending warnings and advice to the friends and colleagues that he loved that regular health screening can save lives.
This is our message and we do hope that somehow positive publicity in Darren’s name can be made available to other young men and women, that may help them to take seriously the possibility that their body holds terrible secrets that can be revealed if they are tested routinely throughout life.
We hope that no other family has to go through the grief and pain that we are experiencing and that their loved ones get screening and subsequent treatment if necessary, that could prevent the tragic outcome that all who loved Darren are trying to come to terms with.
There is a continued fund to build a permanent memorial to Darren in Hollywood. More information at https://www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/1zf7/darren-shahlavi-memorial-fund.
Since Darren’s tragic death, we have been in contact with the charity, Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) – an organisation which is committed to preventing sudden cardiac death in young people through screening, awareness and research, as well as providing expert bereavement support to families, such as ours, whose lives have been devastated by the tragic death of a child, partner or sibling.
Alison Cox MBE, Chief Executive and Founder of CRY, comments; “As we know from our experience of supporting bereaved families, on a weekly basis, any reporting – often unfounded – or suggestion of the use of drugs or medication before a sudden death, can lead to rumours and cruel ‘whispering’ campaigns that simply exacerbate the already horrendous level of grief being experienced.”
As a tribute to Darren’s memory, we will now strive to raise funds to bring CRY’s screening to our local area (where a team of experts from the charity would offer free testing for up to 100 young people aged 14-35 during the course of a day) as well as working to raise awareness of the conditions that can cause young sudden cardiac death.
Every week in the UK, 12 young, apparently fit and healthy people die suddenly from a previously undiagnosed heart condition. In 80% of cases, there will have been no symptoms or warning signs, which is why CRY believes that specialist cardiac screening is so vitally important. Whilst sport itself does not cause sudden cardiac death in the young, it can increase the risk in a person with an underlying heart condition.
CRY (which is now in its 20th anniversary year) tests around 17,000 young people annually. In addition to this pioneering screening protocol (which uses an simple and non-invasive ECG test, with a follow up echo-cardiogram ‘ultrasound’ on the day, if necessary) CRY also urges all families to be aware of their “heart history”. This might also mean speaking to their GP about tests for heart conditions that could predispose them to sudden cardiac death, including familial hypercholesterolaemia (a condition that causes higher levels of cholesterol from a very young age, compared to the lifestyle-related high cholesterol that many people get in their 50s and 60s. This can lead to atherosclerosis).