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Art is his ‘gift’ to me, says mother of football coach, 24, who died from blood clot

Society preparing to put on its first exhibition in two years and it will mark 80th anniversary

22 October, 2021 — By Helen Chapman

Louis O’Neill with mother Lesley

A MOTHER whose son died at age 24 from a blood clot said she has found solace in an art society.

Lesley O’Neill, who lives in Ockenden Road, joined the Islington Art Society last year.

Her son Louis O’Neill died on June 3 from a pulmonary embolism caused by deep vein thrombosis.

Ms O’Neill said: “He had a pain in his leg and we weren’t sure what it was, we thought it could be a muscular pain or a sports injury so I suggested he put ice on it and elevate it.

“The week before he died he felt very unwell then collapsed and phoned up 111. He thought he might have food poisoning.

“On the night he died he phoned me and when the paramedics arrived, at first they thought he was having a panic attack. Then they realised he had actually gone into cardiac arrest.”

She added: “I was glad we were on the phone because it felt like I was with him.”

Louis died from a pulmonary embolism caused by deep vein thrombosis

Louis was spotted by the Arsenal Academy at age seven and played for them for five years.

He went to William Tyndale Primary School and Central Foundation Secondary.

He decided he wanted to be a football coach, got on a course in Cardiff and was allocated as a coach for Blackpool Football Club.

In the school holidays he did voluntary work in schools and enjoyed working with young children, so decided he would retrain to become a primary school teacher and specialise in PE.

He stayed with his father in Bedfordshire last year and got a job at Center Parcs holiday park as a barista, but was furloughed when the lockdown began.

Ms O’Neill said: “He was not a people person but got away with it because he was very handsome. He got away with his smile.”

It is suspected he developed deep vein thrombosis from his sedentary lifestyle during the lockdown.

He died on June 3 in his bedroom in Bedfordshire.

Before the lockdown, his mother said, Louis regularly went to the gym and was in good shape.

Ms O’Neill’s father, Jack, also died of a pulmonary embolism last year in January, aged 92

She has herself also been suffering with long Covid for 18 months since contracting the virus last March. She is improving but has had to limit her return to work teaching pilates.

“I teach a class once a week for an hour. I used to walk from client to client,” she said.

“Now I get scared to go out in case I can’t get back.”

Lesley with her some of her artwork

Her decision to join the Islington Art Society, after her son’s death, however has helped her through this heart-breaking period.

“I joined the art society after realising that life is too short,” Ms O’Neill said.

The society, which has 120 members, will soon be holding its first exhibition for two years due to Covid, and the event marks its 80th anniversary

Ms O’Neill said: “They are very diverse group with a range in styles. Some have trained like I have and there are others that haven’t.”

A print maker, she trained at Slade School of Fine Art, University College London, and graduated in 1991.

After having her first child, Louis, she trained as a teacher and then as a pilates instructor.

Until joining the Islington Arts Society last year, she hadn’t produced any artwork for 25 years.

“It’s been really hard,” she said. “It’s been a bit of a year. I try and do my work every day and it is an enormous help to me.

“I think of it as Louis’ gift to me. I’ve lost him but I’ve got this.”

She mainly creates woodcuts and linocuts inspired by her crochet dolls, representing memories of her childhood.

“They are quite dark but have funny titles,” she said. “They are all things my parents might have said to me.

“It should be good to have a private view with people walking around with a drink in their hand as it used to be.

“I think people have found the art helpful during the pandemic as it gives them a a focus.

“A lot of artists are used to working at home but it gives them a chance to explore and experiment with things.”

The Islington Art Society exhibition at the Espacio Gallery in Bethnal Green Road opens on December 6, with a private view taking place from 2pm until 8.30pm, and the show will run until December 12.


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