SINGAPORE - The teenager was on a service project with his school, hoping to help the less fortunate.
But his fate took a tragic twist when he suffered cardiac arrest during the trip and died.
Darren Loh Ying Xiu, a Year Five pupil of Anglo-Chinese School (International) died in Kota Kinabalu, East Malaysia, on Monday, said his family in a statement to the press on Wednesday.
His family declined to the speak to the media when The New Paper visited the 17-year-old's wake at Mount Vernon Sanctuary on Wednesday.
But, Darren's uncle, Mr Nick Chiang, issued a statement about the teen's death in which the family described Darren as an "active, happy and optimistic" boy.
He had volunteered to take part in the project, together with 12 students and three teachers.
The team had left on Sunday and on the second day, they were preparing to help build a house.
Mid-way through the activities, Darren suddenly suffered heart failure and collapsed.
"Attempts by the school were made to resuscitate him on the spot. Darren was pronounced dead at the local hospital the same day," said the statement.
"Darren was very much looking forward to this trip as a testament to his compassionate nature," the family said.
When TNP asked if Darren had a pre-existing heart condition, Mr Chiang could not elaborate, but added: "It (the death) is a big shock to everybody."
Vice-principal Kathleen Manley said: "ACS (International) is deeply saddened at the passing away of our student, Darren Loh... "Darren will be sorely missed by everyone in the school community.
"He was a popular and clever student with a ready smile and a sense of humour. He was an avid football player and he also played in the Band CCA."
She added that all the students and teachers involved in the trip have returned to Singapore.
Associate Professor Tan Huay Cheem, director of the National University Heart Centre, told TNP it is not uncommon for a young person to die suddenly from cardiac arrest.
Prof Tan clarified that this should not be called a "heart attack" as heart attacks are caused by high cholesterol and plaque blockage.
"In the case of a young person like Darren Loh, it would be a cardiac arrest, which led to his sudden death."
There are three causes of cardiac arrests in young men, said Prof Tan - the patient being born with a structural heart defect; the patient having abnormalities in the electrical system of the heart, and the patient having viral myocarditis, where a virus has infected the heart, causing inflammation.
a. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) or the thickening of the heart muscle, forcing the heart to work harder to pump blood; or
b. arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC) or the progressive replacement of the right ventricle heart muscle with fat and fibres causing abnormal rhythm;
2. Abnormalities in the electrical system of the heart such as Brugada syndrome; and
3. Viral myocarditis where the virus has infected the heart, causing inflammation.
While he declined to go into the specifics of the cause of Darren's death without a post-mortem report, Prof Tan said it could have been "the combination of stress from travelling, of the physical demand and high altitude".
"Sometimes it's just sheer exhaustion from extreme physical activity that a person can drop dead," he said.
Agreeing with Prof Tan, Dr Tan Chong Hiok from the Cardiac Specialist Centre, said: "The whole pathology of a young man is quite different from a middle-aged man because middle-aged men usually have cholesterol collecting in their arteries.
"For a young person who suffers sudden cardiac death, some examples could be due to a tear in the artery, which can happen during strenuous exercise, or an abnormal congenital origin of the arteries."
Darren, the eldest of five, was the adopted son of Mr David Loh Kim Kang, a high-flyer in stockbroking and investment circles.
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