‘I lost my sister to a brain haemorrhage when she was just 26’
'It really shook a lot of people - how could it happen to somebody like this?'
As cliched as it sounds, Natalie Moss was ‘living the dream’ when her life was struck tragically short at the age of just 26.
Sitting in the audience of a live Greg James Radio 1 show, Natalie fell sick out of nowhere and had to be rushed to hospital.
As news spread, her family rushed to be by her side. Natalie’s parents came from Lancashire, her sister Fiona came from university in Newcastle, and her brother Sebastian flew over from Italy where he lives.
‘I remember when I got the call,’ recalls her sister, Natalie. ‘It was Friday 2 December, and my best friend’s birthday. We’d been out for a nice lunch, had just got home and were getting ready to go out that evening.’
My dad rang and told me Natalie was in intensive care. It was just so out of the blue. I felt shock, sadness and just pure disbelief.’
Fiona’s dad Phil told her to stay put, but by the time her friends got back from their night out at 3am, she was on a train heading south.
The following week was a blur of waiting rooms, confusing medical language and hopping between friends’ houses and hotels and praying that Natalie would be okay.
‘Your brain kind of blocks out a little bit I guess to protect you,’ Fiona remembers.
Natalie had fallen into a coma and her family faced an agonising and heartbreaking wait at her bedside.
Fiona adds: ‘I vividly remember going to sit in the chapel in hospital, even though I’m not religious at all, and willing and praying – holding on to any hope.’
Heartbreakingly, Natalie didn’t make it. It emerged that she had suffered a haemorrhage that was caused by an undiagnosed problem with blood vessels in her brain.
The official name for the event was a hemorrhagic stroke, or bleeding in or around the brain. There are 4.6 million cases of hemorrhagic stroke each year, causing 3 million deaths globally, according to the World Stroke Organisation.
Within one month, only three out of five patients will survive and brain haemorrhages can affect all ages, with 24% of cases occurring in people aged 15-49.
Fiona, who was 20 at the time, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘You have this innocence of life and then very quickly, in just one moment, the rug gets ripped out from under your feet.’
The family were staying at a friend’s house when the doctor called them back into hospital, Fiona recalls.
‘I just remember going in and all the doctors and nurses, everyone around her were trying to bring her back to life. I remember my dad’s face and my mum crying.
‘It really shook a lot of people – how could it happen to somebody like this?’.
Losing her sister so suddenly left Fiona feeling as though she’d lost a limb. The pair were so close, they used to joke that they were twins, but that Fiona had stayed in the womb an extra six years.
Natalie was bubbly, popular, sporty and arty. She was very fashionable and was the life and soul of the party. Fiona describes her as being ‘an amazing big sister’ ‘beautiful’, ‘ditsy’ and ‘loud’ and having a real zest for life.
‘We were in each other’s wardrobes all the time,’ she remembers. ‘We would speak every day, sometimes about absolutely nothing. We’d be constantly in conversation. If you wanted to do something, go to see a film, or go to a festival or on holiday, she was always that one person to call. It was just how a sibling should be.
‘Because Natalie was older, she would very much guide me through life. If we went on a night out she would always make sure I was okay. Losing her just left a huge hole.’
The year after Natalie’s death, her mum Anita and Sebastian decided to set up a charity, to prevent other lives being lost. Called the Natalie Kate Moss Trust, their aim was to to raise money for research and treatment and to teach people of the risks.
High blood pressure is easily treatable through lifestyle changes or medication, but if people aren’t checking themselves, they could potentially be in danger.
That is why Fiona recommends everyone, regardless of whether or not they believe themselves to be healthy, get used to checking themselves from the age of 16 upwards as part of their regular health and wellbeing routine.
She says: ‘We want to empower people to look after their health so they maintain a healthy blood pressure. High blood pressure is the catalyst for 10 million deaths a year – and that’s not just hemorrhagic stroke, but that is also heart attacks and other strokes.
‘On average, a third of the population have high blood pressure and 50% of those people are walking around undiagnosed.
Brain haemorrhage is not a problem until it happens. High blood pressure is known as the silent killer because it kind of is just waiting for that for that moment.’
‘While high blood pressure is normally a conversation topic for those in middle age or older, people between the ages of 16 to 35 have the highest percentage of undiagnosed cases.’
Detailing more ways to get support, Fiona adds: ‘While you can make an appointment at your GP, you can also ask your pharmacist to give you a quick check.
‘Or, 350 Tesco branches have teamed up with the Trust to provide readings at their stores. Ideally, most families would have a monitor at home.’
Losing Natalie was a heartbreaking experience for the whole family, and one that Fiona urges others to avoid.
‘Don’t wait for something to happen or until you get a bit older,’ she urges.
We look after so many other things, so perfectly; we prioritise jobs or material things, but not the very thing that is allowing us to live. It’s so simple to check your blood pressure – it takes 30 seconds.’
Like in Natalie’s case, not all brain haemorrhages can be prevented, so the Trust is also working with Natalie’s alma mater Manchester University to carry out research into why this area of medicine hasn’t kept up with other areas like diabetes and cancer.
We were so close and when that is stripped away from you like that it’s really lonely
Meanwhile, the Moss family are left with ‘a gaping hole’ in their lives.
‘You reach Christmas or a special birthday and there is this absence,’ Fiona explains. ‘I’m not married yet, but I imagine Natalie would be my maid of honour. But she won’t be there. My brother has a kid now who will never know Auntie Natalie.
‘She and I used to talk about our lives in the future and having a cottage next to each other and how our husbands would have to get on.
‘We were so close and when that is stripped away from you like that it’s really lonely because nobody can fill that. That sibling bond is a very unique one.’
Over the years the sadness has become more bearable for Fiona, and working with the Trust has helped her channel her grief.
‘I’m passionate about the work I do now, because it’s very easy to trundle along from day to day and not do the things that we know we should to improve our health and improve our longevity,’ she says.
But we should. Because I know from firsthand experience, how easily that can change from one day to the next.’
The Natalie Kate Moss Trust
Brain hemorrhages can happen at any time, to anyone. The Natalie Kate Moss Trust works to prevent brain haemorrhages from happening and fund ground-breaking research to treat them when they do.
To find out more, click here.
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