- Associated Press - Monday, March 3, 2014

MONROE, Mich. (AP) - Every day Donald Vandercook says good morning to his son, but the photographs never respond. That’s how he greets Matthew, who was 21, athletic and seemingly healthy, when he died unexpectedly in October while away at school.

Matthew died in his sleep of Long QT Syndrome, a rare genetic heart disorder that causes quickened and chaotic heartbeats.

Vandercook, a retired detective who works part time with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office, said in the months since Matthew’s death, people have given him the impression that they believed his son could have died from a drug overdose. That was far from the truth. An autopsy showed there were no drugs or alcohol in Matthew’s system when he died.

“So many kids are dying of drugs that people just assume things,” Vandercook told the Monroe News (http://bit.ly/McXjYM ). “It would have killed me if he died of drugs. But Matt wouldn’t even take an aspirin.”

A three-sport star at Ida High School with football as his favorite sport, Matthew graduated in 2011 and enrolled at Mid-Michigan Community College in Mount Pleasant. He was planning on getting his grades up and transferring to Central Michigan University, Mount Pleasant, by this spring.

Growing up, Matthew, the youngest of five, gave no indication that his heart could give out at any moment. In fact, unless doctors are looking specifically for Long QT Syndrome, they probably won’t find it with a simple blood test.

Matthew was born with the disorder, but no one knew. He never was sick or displayed any symptoms, which most often include sudden fainting or seizures.

“He never had a health problem his entire life,” Vandercook said.

In mid-October, Vandercook went to visit his son and his three roommates, who were all friends from Ida. He spent time with Matthew, and on a Saturday night they had dinner. It was the last time he would see his son alive.

Matthew and his friends went to a concert and Vandercook said he was hoping to have breakfast with his son on Sunday before heading home. But Matthew wasn’t feeling well. His friends said he went to bed and they looked in on him on Monday, but he appeared to be sleeping. On Tuesday, when Matthew still was in bed, they tried to roust him and discovered he wasn’t breathing. Doctors believed he died Monday morning.

The shock and ensuing grief of suddenly losing a young, athletic, happy and healthy son and brother ran deep. Vandercook said it took weeks for the coroner to determine a cause of death. And because parents and loved ones often want to know as many details as possible in such tragedies, having that answer was a relief for Vandercook.

“His heart just stopped in his sleep,” he said. “He was my baby.”

In addition to his father, Matthew is survived by his mother, Janice, and four siblings, Jessica, Donald, Shannon and Shawn.

Because the disorder is rare, Long QT Syndrome is often misdiagnosed or undetected. And sometimes, such as in Matthew’s case, there is never an indication that a health issue exists and should be pursued.

Despite the silence of the disorder that afflicted his son, Vandercook still feels he should have done more, even though there was no way of knowing that the condition existed.

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