Blake Chown’s family are seeking answers as to why he was sent home from hospital — twice — before collapsing, unable to breathe.
He died just days later.
But they are also honouring his generous nature — which led them to decide, without having previously discussed it with him, to donate his organs to save other people’s lives.
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Blake, then 24, collapsed at his Wagga Wagga home on June 24 soon after driving himself to and from hospital about 4am.
The father-of-two hadn’t wanted to wake his young family when he began experiencing breathing problems.
He had already been to Wagga Wagga Base Hospital the day before, on June 23.
At that time he was diagnosed with suspected tonsillitis, given a steroid injection to reduce swelling and inflammation and underwent some tests — the results of which would not be known until it was too late.
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He was sent home and told to return if he was unable to swallow or had other concerns.
When he began experiencing breathing problems in the early hours of June 24, he went back to the hospital where, his family say, he was simply told to take painkillers for the suspected tonsillitis.
He spent less than 40 minutes at the hospital that time before he drove home.
But within 20 minutes of arriving at home, he was gasping for breath and woke his partner, Ebonie Dowdy.
“Babe, I feel like I’m dying,” he told her. “I can’t breathe.”
Blake Chown collapsed at his Wagga Wagga home in June and died days later. Credit: Supplied
Blake collapsed while on the phone to emergency services.
Ebonie performed CPR, with one of their children watching on, while waiting for the paramedics to arrive.
He was rushed to hospital in a critical condition while paramedics continued to perform CPR.
His family was then told he was suffering from a swollen epiglottis that was obstructing his airway, causing a pulseless electrical activity (PEA) cardiac arrest.
Blake’s family sat by his bedside for five days waiting for a sign of improvement.
The tests that had been done on his first visit to hospital eventually revealed he had a strep throat infection and was septic.
He was also then found to have suffered extensive brain damage due to a lack of oxygen during his cardiac arrest.
He died on June 28.
The family of Blake Chown (left) is reeling after his sudden death. Credit: Supplied
Loved ones have paid tribute, saying his family was his main priority.
“If anyone needed help, he was the first one to put his hand up,” sister-in-law Brianna Chown told 7NEWS.com.au.
She said his children find it a “little bit hard to understand”.
Sister-in-law Tayla Dowdy said it was Blake who put his son to bed every night, and the young boy now struggles to settle without him.
She said Blake’s funeral on July 14 was “the funeral he deserved but shouldn’t have had”.
“We shouldn’t have been planning a funeral,” she said.
“Only days before, he was talking about proposing and having another child.”
The family “still find it hard to believe” Blake was sent home from the hospital when he was so ill.
When he returned in the back of an ambulance “they had trouble intubating him because of the swelling,” Brianna said.
“I don’t think I’ll ever comprehend how this happened,” she said.
“I’m not sure why but he didn’t get that help he should have received.”
‘How does this happen?’
After his death, the family issued a statement, sharing that “Blake celebrated his 25th birthday in hospital fighting for his life when all he wanted to do was go fishing”.
“As a family, we will never understand how someone with no previous medical history was denied the help he needed twice and was dismissed as having a self-limiting disease and just needed to rest.
“Patients believe and trust the opinions of health professionals, though Blake was let down, and now it has robbed him and our family of the next 60-80 years of his life with his children.
“How does this happen?”
Blake’s family said he always cared about helping those people around him — which is why they knew he would want his organs donated.
While he had yet to have that conversation with his loved ones, they knew it was what he would have wished.
“Ebonie and our family made the selfless decision to donate his organs,” Tayla said, adding the family was told one organ recipient was just days away from dying if not for the life-saving liver transplant.
The family have been told all the organ recipients are doing well, and they were incredibly grateful for the support of the medical team who made sure they were OK throughout the donation process.
Tayla revealed Blake was given an honour guard as he was wheeled into the operating theatre with music playing.
“It was just beautiful,” she said.
‘Our greatest hero’
All of Blake’s organs were donated.
“Blake will forever be our greatest hero and the unknown hero of seven other people he has saved the lives of and who get to go home to their families,” Brianna said.
“It is so bittersweet that, although our love could not have saved Blake, he has saved seven others from the pain our family are experiencing.”
While the family said they had not previously discussed organ donation before Blake’s death, they had since looked into it and urged other families to “have these discussions now”.
“Life is way too short, as we’ve seen,” Tayla said.
The family noted that July 23 to 30 is DonateLife Week.
While government data shows four in five people support organ donation, many of them have not registered as a donor.
And a new YouGov poll found seven in 10 Australians who support donation have not told their family or friends they want to be a donor.
“It only takes a minute to register,” Brianna said.
Care under review
Meanwhile, a GoFundMe has been set up to help the Chown family with funeral expenses and the transition to a single-income home.
The family have also since met with members of the Murrumbidgee Local Health District clinical governance unit and Indigenous health director to discuss the ongoing investigation into the circumstances of Blake’s death.
“Murrumbidgee Local Health District extends its deepest condolences to the family and friends of Mr Chown,” a spokesperson said.
“We acknowledge the concerns raised by Mr Chown’s family and MLHD is reviewing the care provided.”
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