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Friday, 29 August 2014

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Family demands answers after Cumbrian girl, 14, dies during surgery

A grieving father has demanded answers after his 14-year-old daughter died on the operating table in hospital after complaining of abdominal pains for a week.

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tributes: Heather Thackaberry

Heather Thackaberry, from Whitehaven, suffered a fatal heart attack while undergoing surgery at West Cumberland Hospital on July 1, 2012.

Before the start of an inquest into her death, Heather’s father Alex said the family was fighting to find out what happened in the operating theatre.

He said: “We felt like we had to battle to get her into hospital and now we’re battling to find out what really happened in that operating theatre. We just want to know the truth. We want people to know that there have been failings and that our child didn’t get the care she needed.”

Pathologist Dr Fergus Young ruled the cause of death was septicemia, peritonitis and acute and chronic salpingitis – inflammation of the fallopian tubes.

He concluded an infection had developed over a period of time in Heather’s pelvic area causing internal scarring to develop.

The inquest which is scheduled to last four days, heard that in the week prior to Heather’s death, doctors had different opinions about the main cause of her abdominal pain.

The teen attended the Cumbria Health on Call (CHOC) service on June 27 and was diagnosed by Dr Michael Lewis as having a urinary tract infection (UTI), which she was given antibiotics for. She was advised to continue taking medicine to relieve constipation.

She also sought an emergency doctor’s appointment with GP Dr Judith Spencer, at the Catherine Street surgery in Whitehaven, on June 29 and was diagnosed as being constipated, having an ongoing UTI and an umbilical hernia. Heather was prescribed other medication for constipation and told to continue the treatment for the infection.

Her mother Sonya Thackaberry contacted CHOC on June 30 saying her daughter had “pain in her right side and she was crying with it”.

Heather was later admitted to the children’s ward at West Cumberland Hospital.

An assessment was carried out by Dr Korim Shafeek. He said: “My working diagnosis was constipation but I did not rule out other causes.”

He said: “She didn’t look acutely unwell to me. When I asked Heather herself she said she was feeling better than how she was in CHOC.”

Heather was prescribed a suppository and laxatives, which did not work.

Tests showed that she had high respiration and high heart rate, which Dr Shafeek attributed to pain.

Blood tests were carried out and a surgical review which concluded it was most likely Heather had an appendicitis.

She was taken to surgery for an operation, but died while in theatre.

Mrs Thackaberry said of her daughter: “Heather was a character in every way. She always preferred the underdog.

“If you were down, Heather was the first person to try and cheer you up and make you laugh. She was the confidante of the family, but she was also a typical teenage girl – stuck to her mobile and trying to sneak out to school with make up on. We were very close – everywhere I went, she came too.

“I should be helping her to revise for her GCSEs now, not sitting through her inquest.”

She added: “The letters from the kids have kept us going – they say such beautiful things to us. When Heather first died, my mum bought me a box to put the letters in, but in no time, the box wasn’t big enough.”

The Thackaberry family is represented by Victoria Watson, a partner in the medical law team of Burnetts.

Mrs Watson said: “Clearly when a 14-year-old child dies in hospital, there are questions to be answered. Heather’s parents have concerns about her treatment in the week leading up to her death, including the delays in carrying out tests to establish the cause of her obvious pain.”

The inquest continues.

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