Illinois congressman reveals teen daughter’s cause of death

Illinois Rep. Sean Casten revealed the cause of death of his daughter Gwen, who died in June 2022 at the age of 17.

Casten’s family issued a lengthy statement on his official social media accounts more than three months after his daughter’s death. In the statement, the family shared that the teen’s cause of death was a sudden cardiac arrhythmia.

“In layman’s terms, she was fine, and then her heart stopped,” the statement read in part. “We don’t know what caused the (arrhythmia), and likely never will.”

The family described Gwen as a “healthy 2022 teenager,” explaining, “She ate well, exercised, got regular check-ups, didn’t suffer from any behavioral health issues, and had close relationships with family and friends.”

They noted that Gwen was fully vaccinated and was asymptomatic after “occasional” positive COVID-19 tests amid the surge of the omicron variant.

“She had just come home from an evening with friends, went to bed and didn’t wake up,” the statement said. “We are heartbroken, but we are not unique. Sudden, unexplained heart-failure among young, healthy people is rare but real. We are left grasping at the wrong end of random chance.”

The statement went on to thank the family’s peers for the love and support that they have received since sharing the news of Gwen’s death months prior.

The family wrote that Gwen had been actively engaged in several organizations prior to her death, including Downers Grove North Friends of Fine Arts and March for Our Lives.

“It is a comfort to know how many lives Gwen touched over her 17 years,” the family wrote. “She had a big, beautiful, kind, loving heart. And it stopped, as all must. None of us know when our last heartbeat will come. The best we can hope for is that when our loved ones do pass, we will have no regrets about the time we were lucky enough to share.”

The Casten family urged everyone to “hug the folks you love a little harder today,” adding, “Be present in their lives. And spread your live a little farther. Because in the end, it’s all that remains.”

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, an arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat, is an issue with the rhythm of an individual’s heartbeat in which the heart beats too quickly, too slowly or at an irregular rate. Untreated, arrhythmias can lead to stroke, heart failure or cardiac arrest.

On the evening of June 13, 2022, it was announced on Casten’s social media that Gwen had died that morning. Two days later on June 15, a statement from the family, including Casten, his wife Kara and their daughter Audrey, was shared alongside a photo of Gwen.

“On Sunday night, we had dinner as a family and then she went out with some friends for a few hours,” the statement read in part. “When she got home, she said goodnight to Kara and I, texted a friend to make sure she got home OK, and didn’t wake up on Monday morning.”

At the time, the Casten family wrote that they did not know what caused Gwen’s death, but only “that it was peaceful.”

In the statement, the Casten family described Gwen was a “happy, healthy, well adjusted young woman.” 

Gwen was set to start college at the University of Vermont to study environmental science. She was passionate about activism and music, playing trumpet in several school ensembles. She also founded the Empowerment Club at her school, which focused on gun violence, environmental issues, LGBTQ allyship and the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as voter registration.

“She had the good fortune to have a community of good friends, teachers and family and the good wisdom to realize how much she owed them,” the statement read. “If her light seemed a bit brighter than most it was because she was so generous in reflecting back the light and love that so many gave her.”

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