Talented young scientist who died of SADS honoured in Limerick

Medal established to honour Kevin Hayes (26) a Phd student at University of Limerick

Catherine Hayes, mother of Dr Kevin Hayes, Sabina Higgins, President  Michael D Higgins and James Hayes, father of Dr Kevin Hayes  at UL. Photograph: Oisin McHugh True Media

Catherine Hayes, mother of Dr Kevin Hayes, Sabina Higgins, President Michael D Higgins and James Hayes, father of Dr Kevin Hayes at UL. Photograph: Oisin McHugh True Media

 

The father of an outstanding young scientist has spoken proudly of how his deceased son’s work continues to impact lives, as the President Michael D Higgins unveiled a plaque in his memory.

Kevin Hayes (26) was in the final stages of writing up his PhD study at the University of Limerick, when he died suddenly last year.

His untimely death was attributed to Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome (SADS), an unexplained heart condition that can cause death in young people who otherwise appear healthy and fit.

The award-winning biochemist who presented at conferences alongside Nobel laureates and worked to improve gender balance in the sciences, was remembered on Friday by his family and friends at an unveiling ceremony in UL attended by Mr Higgins and his wife, Sabina.

“In life Kevin set himself very high standards and always aimed for the stars. More often than not he achieved his lofty targets and even still, since his passing, those high standards are being maintained,” said his father James Hayes.

“We received his PhD award at this year’s conferring ceremony and another paper of his has just been published in Scientific Reports. The chemistry department in UL has commissioned a medal in his memory which will be awarded annually to the top performing first-year student in science. Today we have the highest office in the land unveiling a memorial tribute to Kevin. We can’t go much higher than that,” he added.

The limestone memorial is located beside the Lonsdale building in UL close to the laboratory where Kevin worked. It features a graphic representing the protein structure the young scientist solved and also a verse written by his father, inspired by his son’s passion for research.

“Kevin absolutely loved research and he had a wonderful understanding of science. I hope that he will continue to inspire our young researchers. On a day when things might not be going exactly as expected they could come out here, get a breath of fresh air and have a chat about it,” explained his father.

Speaking at the unveiling ceremony the President said it was an honour to be asked to pay tribute to a brilliant young scientist and he praised Kevin’s family and work colleagues for honouring his memory in the most “practical way”.

A native of Murroe in Co Limerick, Kevin worked in UL under the supervision of Prof Tewfik Soulimane in structural biochemistry and Prof Tony Pembroke in the area of molecular biology and expression.

Since his death Kevin’s parents James and Catherine have been committed to raising awareness around SADS and the work done by staff at the Family Heart Screening Unit in Dublin.

“People may be shocked to learn that it is estimated that at least one young person dies of SADS in Ireland every fortnight. Researchers at the Mater hospital are working tirelessly to try to find the causes of SADS and to help identify those most at risk,” explained Mr Hayes.