Boy, 10, who collapsed and died after building an igloo in the snow with friends may have had unknown heart conditionJoshua Houlgate was playing in the snow with his friends when he complained of feeling unwell and collapsedHis mother frantically tried to save his lifeCoroner records verdict of death by natural causes



17:50 GMT, 15 October 2012

Tragic loss: Joshua Houlgate, the ten-year-old who collapsed and died while he was playing in the snow with his friends in February

Tragic loss: Joshua Houlgate, the ten-year-old who collapsed and died while he was playing in the snow with his friends in February

A 10-year-old boy who collapsed in front of his pals while they played in the snow could have had a lifelong heart condition, an inquest heard.

Joshua Houlgate had been building an igloo and throwing snowballs with friends on February 5 when he complained of feeling unwell, grabbed a tree and fell backwards to the ground.

Despite frantic attempts by his mother and a neighbour to revive him, he was pronounced dead later that day.

An inquest into the youngster’s death was told today that there was nothing in his post-mortem examination to explain why his heart suddenly stopped but an investigation into his medical records showed he could have suffered from an underlying heart condition since birth.

It is not known whether he did indeed have the rare heart condition Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome or if it caused his death and a coroner said it would be impossible to say whether noticing the syndrome earlier would have altered the outcome.

The hearing was told that Joshua’s friends ran to his home in Castleford, West Yorkshire, following his collapse at around midday to tell his mum Sara – who ran to her only child’s aid.

Simon Thompson, the father of one of Joshua’s pals, dialled 999 and battled for 30 minutes to revive the unconscious boy with chest compressions, while Sara attempted mouth-to-mouth until the ambulance arrived.

Market stall worker Sara initially thought Joshua – who had a history of epilepsy – was suffering a seizure but then realised 'it was more serious than a fit'.

The ambulance arrived and Joshua was taken to Pinderfields Hospital but was sadly confirmed dead at 1.13pm that day.

Distraught Sara said in her statement: 'Within minutes of getting to the hospital we were told he hadn’t survived. I still feel numb.'

Coroner David Hinchliff said: 'Up to the moment when he suddenly collapsed Joshua had a thoroughly good time playing with his mates in the snow.'

Wakefield Coroner’s Court heard that Joshua had been born with holes in his heart, which had healed, had suffered from epilepsy, asthma and was autistic.

Joshua was building an igloo and having a snowball fight with his friends when the tragedy struck (file picture)

Joshua was building an igloo and having a snowball fight with his friends when the tragedy struck (file picture)

The initial post-mortem examination couldn’t find a reason for Joshua’s death. Pathologist Dr Mudher Al-Adnani said: 'From the post-mortem there wasn’t anything to explain why Joshua collapsed and died.' He then added that playing in the snow and the cold air may have put a strain on his heart.

It was when Dr Stephen Jones, a consultant paediatrician at Pinderfields, began looking at Joshua’s medical records, specifically an ECG taken when he was two-days-old, that it was noted that he may have suffered from an underlying cardiac condition known as Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome.

The inquest was told that it was a sudden change in the ECG which would only have been picked up by somebody with expertise and then brought to the attention of cardiologists.


Cardiac arrhythmic abnormalities claim the lives of eight young people each week, usually without warning.

They come under a variety of names, including Long QT Syndrome, Catecholaminergic Polyventricular Tachycardia and Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome.

Essentially all describe the disruption of the electrical signals which keep the heart pumping.

If the pattern is disrupted enough, the heart stops beating, within seconds the brain is oxygen-starved which can quickly lead to death.

If noted Joshua may have been subject to regular ECGs and possibly different medication from that point.

Symptoms of the syndrome are dizziness, shortness of breath and palpitations.

But Dr Jones said he couldn’t say if he had the syndrome at the time of his death or whether it caused his death, adding: 'I have probably never come across it as a cause of sudden death.'

The inquest heard that it is possible to outgrow the syndrome and Mr Hinchliff said it was impossible to say if Joshua suffered from it and whether knowing about the syndrome 'would have altered the outcome'.

He passed a verdict of death by natural causes but told Joshua’s parents that he would include the syndrome in his verdict.