A TEENAGER has tragically died of a rare condition less than a fortnight after first going to the doctor complaining of sickness and tiredness.
Football-mad Brandon Walker, 14, died on Friday having been flown to London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital for specialist treatment to a condition which affects one in 55 million people.
The death of the teenager, who dreamed of playing for Hibs, has led to an outpouring of grief and support from the footballing world.
Stars including John Hughes and Robert Snodgrass have donated money to an appeal which will now go towards the youngster’s funeral. Brandon’s devastated family told today how he first went to the doctor on November 27. As well as feeling sick, he had been having difficulty breathing while walking any distance, which was also causing his fingertips and lips to go blue.
But what the family hoped would be a routine medical complaint turned out to be far worse – and devastatingly, Brandon died just a week later.
The Granton youngster was diagnosed with a rare condition affecting his lungs and heart, and after spending a night in the Western General for tests, he was transferred to the Sick Kids.
He was kept on oxygen after doctors found that the right side of his heart was enlarged, while the left side wasn’t working as it should.
As specialists realised the rarity and severity of Brandon’s illness, he was rushed to Great Ormond Street by air ambulance last Tuesday, where he was on the priority list for a lung transplant.
His shocked family were told the pulmonary arterial condition he was suffering only affected one in 55 million people.
Despite this, his spirits were high and he was cracking jokes with his family and the nurses – but his condition rapidly worsened and he died on Friday with his father Davie by his side.
The sudden death of the energetic teenager who was always joking around has hit his family hard, but they have been “overwhelmed” with support from people in the north Edinburgh area and high- profile footballers.
His sister Gemma Gordon, 32, said “late baby” Brandon was more like a son to her, as she helped their mum Bernadette with him when he was born.
“It’s just heartbreaking. If I could have taken his place I would have, if I could have given him my lungs I would have. He was so brave,” she said. “But it’s good that he never suffered for a long time.”
The Hibs-mad teen, who lived with his dad at Granton Place, had been a talented footballer who had played for Edina Hibs, Craigroyston and Spartans community clubs. He had even completed a trial for Hearts about four years ago.
“He’ll be playing football with the angels now,” Ms Gordon said.
Brandon regularly went to Hibs games with his uncle John Lewis, who bought him a season ticket.
His hero was Hibs midfielder John McGinn, who went to visit him in the Sick Kids the day before he was airlifted to Great Ormond Street.
His sister said Brandon was “absolutely stunned” by his visit from McGinn, and was delighted to speak to him about football.
She said: “[Brandon] was a right comedian, like one of them off Still Game. He was a mad Hibs fan with a season ticket – he lived and breathed Hibs. That was his dream – to be a Hibs player. McGinn was really genuine and spent lots of time with him. It was the look of pure amazement on Brandon’s face.”
A family friend set up a Just Giving page to help the family pay for Brandon’s travel in the hope that he would get better – raising more than £4000.
Ex-Hibs player and manager John Hughes and Scotland international Robert Snodgrass are among the footballing stars who have generously donated to the cause.
Meanwhile former Hibs player Leigh Griffiths has pledged to wear a T-shirt with Brandon’s name on it for his next game with Celtic.
Although the money will sadly not be used for its original purpose, it will now be put towards Brandon’s funeral costs, while the family want to make a donation to Great Ormond Street.
Last night, former Hibs footballer Paul Kane joined some of Brandon’s family at The Anchor Inn in Granton, where he smashed a glass charity bottle to reveal that the pub’s fundraising efforts had raised more than £2000, bringing the overall total to £6000 in just over a week. Ronnie Robertson and Anne Moran of the pub said they were delighted with the amount raised and praised bar staff and customers for their community spirit.
Mr Robertson said: “The community has pulled together, I have never seen such cameraderie in the community. The tears that have been shed in Granton this week are unbelievable. It’s unbelievable the generosity of people, even when they haven’t got anything.”
The former Victoria Primary pupil, who was at Trinity High, was well known by locals for playing football outside the pub and showing off his tricks.
Ms Gordon said: “He was probably one of the best young football players in this area. He had trials for Hearts. When we saw him he always had a football under his arm. He had kicked a ball about since he was in the womb.”
Her partner Shaun Hanratty, 33, said: “As a family we’d like to thank the local community, far and wide. There’s people from Australia that have donated, and people who don’t have much money. It’s unbelievable the support and the amount of money that’s been raised. Everybody is grieving, the whole area is grieving.”
Brandon was very close to the couple’s sons Owen and Leyton, his nephews, who are 12 and eight.
He is also survived by grown-up big brothers David, Darren and Andrew, and a large extended family; he was the youngest out of around 20 grandchildren.
His sister joked that music-lover Brandon had “lots of girlfriends”, adding: “It’s hard to believe we won’t see him again. Everybody has come together. He was a well-known and loved little boy. He was so humble, he wasn’t selfish. His dad once gave him £40 for trainers, he came back having spent it on Owen.”
With Christmas just around the corner, the family is preparing for a very difficult time.
Brandon had been planning to go to his sister’s house on Pennywell Road on Christmas Day, so she intends to decorate the tree in green and white in his honour.
And his mum had booked a holiday to Benidorm with Brandon next year, which would have been his first trip abroad.
But it is hoped they can treasure the memories they shared with the youngster, including annual trips to Blackpool with his parents, and his dad’s 60th birthday party in October.
Funeral arrangements are yet to be confirmed. However, Brandon will be buried at Seafield Cemetery, with his nan and grandad, in a new Hibs away strip and in a coffin decorated in the team colours.
His parents will encourage people to wear bright colours in tribute to Brandon’s bright personality, and they hope to play Hibs anthem Sunshine on Leith at the service.
‘It was a pleasure for me to put a smile on wee boy’s face for his last few days’
HIBS star John McGinn visited Brandon at the Sick Kids Hospital after learning of the teenager’s illness.
The midfielder was devastated to hear that the 14-year-old supporter had died.
McGinn said: “Last week I got a call as Paul Kane wanted me to go along and see the wee boy so I was more than happy to do it.
“But I came out the cinema on Friday and I found out he passed away and I couldn’t believe it. It hit me like a ton of bricks and it was so sad. It puts football into perspective so I’m sure all the boys will be wanting to get the win [against Falkirk] on Saturday.
“On behalf of all the players, we’re all thinking about his family and his friends. It was a pleasure for me to put a smile on his face for his last few days and it’s something I’ll treasure.”
McGinn said the pair talked about nothing but Hibs during the visit last Monday.
He said: “He asked me about the drive into training and how Jason Cummings does his hair.
“He said I was his favourite but that Jason wasn’t far behind. We were talking away, he was Hibs daft and had his strip on and I gave him one of my strips framed.
“I couldn’t get it out of my head on Friday night. I was affected a lot more by it than I thought I would be.
“He was an infectious character and I was so surprised by the news. I was in bits, but my mum said to me that it was good I got the chance to put a smile on his face. I would do it every day if I could. It was priceless. When the funeral comes I’ll talk to his family and if I can do anything I will.”
Hibs’ match against Morton on Saturday was called off, but McGinn said he had been desperate to win in Brandon’s memory.
He said: “I was as pumped up as I’ve ever been for a game, but common sense with the weather prevailed. He was a massive, massive Hibs fan and all he wanted was a league-winning team to watch.
“He was talking about hopefully going to the Queen of the South game, which makes this so sad. We moan a lot as footballers but a lot of clubs do good things at this time of year especially.
“We’re all willing to help in any way we can and it’s a privilege if we’re able to put a smile on some faces. There was a couple of kids who weren’t well when I was at St Mirren and I loved spending time with them. They’re aware of the illnesses they have but they just get on with it and they’re so strong, just like their families.
“They don’t have a ‘normal’ life but they try the best they can. We can take these things for granted, when we have everything on a plate.”
McGinn said he was sure that the club would honour Brandon’s memory.
He said: “I saw a minute’s applause was mentioned by the fans as a possibility and we’ll be doing anything we can to help with any dedications.
“It’s a great club for things like that. I’m really glad I met Brandon and it’s just so sad how it’s turned out.”
A Hibs spokesman added: “Everybody at the club was very saddened to hear what he happened and everybody’s thoughts are with his family and friends.”