A young Rusholme mother died from a 4,000-to-one brain abscess only six weeks after she was sent home by her doctor with earache, an inquest heard yesterday.
Zoe Adams, 28, complained of head pain with a discharge and discomfort from her left ear – but her GP and other medics said the symptoms were consistent with a ‘relatively minor’ infection and prescribed her antibiotics.
She was eventually admitted to hospital when her condition deteriorated and she died the following day.
Doctors discovered the mother of three had developed a middle-ear infection which had led to a large abscess with a 4cm diameter that had developed on the left side of her brain.
However, the coroner ruled that the death was of natural causes and that the doctor who treated the ‘extremely unlucky’ Miss Adams was not at fault in ‘a series of unfortunate events’.
The hearing was told the tragedy began on February 12 last year after Miss Adams went to see her GP Dr Praful Patel complaining of pains in her ear.
The doctor examined her ear, including the bone structure, but thought the symptoms pointed to an outer ear infection. He prescribed her with antibiotics and asked her to come back in three weeks if she did not get any better.
On March 1, Miss Adams called a triage nurse working for the Out of Hours – Go To Doc service saying her ear was ‘very painful’ and was ‘nine out of ten’ on the pain scale.
She was referred to a doctor at an out-of-hours surgery based at Wythenshawe Hospital who thought it was an infection of the middle ear but prescribed antibiotics and advised her to return in a few days if the pain persisted or became worse.
On March 16, Miss Adams spoke to another out-of-hours nurse complaining of headache and earache and four days later she was admitted to hospital.
After her admission, she did not display signs of illness – such as high temperature or changed mental state – that could have prompted doctors to send her for a brain scan that might have discovered the abscess.
Although she was seen to be very distant the night before she died, that was put down to the pressures of coping with young children.
She last seen alive going to the toilet at around 4am after being kept in hospital overnight. She died on the ward on March 21.
Consultant ear, nose and throat surgeon Andrew Camilleri, who carried out an investigation for the hospital into Zoe’s death, told the inquest that there was around a one-in-4,000 chance of an ear infection leading to a brain abscess.
He said he was satisfied the hospital had taken all the steps possible to treat Miss Adams and said by looking at her, no-one would have suspected she had a brain abscess.
Recording a verdict of death by natural causes, Coroner Nigel Meadows said the diagnosis of a ‘relatively minor’ ear infection by Dr Patel had been ‘completely appropriate’.
Mr Meadows said the out-of-hours service had taken a sensibly cautious approach to Miss Adams condition and he thought they could not have done anymore to prevent her death.
Mr Meadows said Miss Adams did not display any normal signs of somebody with a cerebral abscess and added: “Zoe has just been extremely unlucky to contract this infection and to have a robust constitution.”
He added: “There was no evidence that her condition justified a CT scan. It would be unrealistic to expect that the hospital perform a CT scan on everybody who has an ear infection.
“Even if she was given an emergency CT scan the night she died then there is also no evidence to suggest she would have been able to be saved.
“It is a very unfortunate series of events. The vast majority of people who have ear infections don’t have a cerebral abscess. She has been extremely unlucky to contract this infection.”
Speaking afterwards, Zoe’s mother Michelle Holt said she accepted the verdict. “It’s been a very, very hard time. My daughter was like me and had a very strong pain threshold,” she said.