Woman, 25, died of meningitis after doctors told her she was having a ‘panic attack’ and sent her home from hospital
- Sarah Cullen, 25, died in December 2014 but her parents still have questions
- Alan and Kathleen Davies, from Blackpool, say their daughter should still be alive
- Miss Cullen was put on life support after suffering a stroke and meningitis
- But her organs failed and she died less than a week after seeking medical help
A woman died of meningitis six days after doctors told her she was having a ‘panic attack’ and sent her home from hospital.
Sarah Cullen’s parents made the agonising decision to switch off her life support on December 1, 2014.
Miss Cullen, who was 25, from Blackpool in Lancashire, went to hospital on November 28, when she suddenly started feeling numbness down one side, was slurring her words and became confused.
She was sent home but the next morning her friend found her collapsed on the bathroom floor – she was found to have meningitis and to have had a stroke.
Her heartbroken parents say they are still waiting for an apology from the hospital because their legal battle has stalled.
Sarah Cullen died in December 2014 at the age of 25 following a stroke and meningitis infection which medics misdiagnosed as a panic attack
Miss Cullen’s parents, Kathleen and Alan Davies, say they still have questions about their daughter’s death but staff at the hospital where she died won’t meet with them
Miss Cullen’s mother, Kathleen Davies, and step-father, Alan Davies, have decided to speak out for the first time about her death and say they still have questions.
An inquest in 2015 concluded Miss Cullen died from acute bacterial meningitis, a rapidly developing inflammation of brain and spinal tissue.
Mr and Mrs Davies are speaking out now because legal proceedings have stalled and they say officials at Blackpool Victoria Hospital won’t meet with them.
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They believe their beloved daughter should never have left the hospital when she first went there on November 28, 2014.
Two days earlier she had been to a walk-in surgery because her finger was discoloured. On that occasion she was given medication and told to see her GP.
Had her symptoms been taken more seriously on either occasion she would still be alive, the Davies family say.
Miss Cullen, who also had lupus, first went to hospital when her finger started to change colour, and she later suffered from numbness, confusion and her speech became slurred
After Miss Cullen (pictured left in 1995 and right in 2004) was sent home she spoke to her step-father on the phone and said she was going to have a bath. He never spoke to her again because she was found on the bathroom floor the next morning, having collapsed, and never regained consciousness
Mr Davies, 54, said: ‘We were at home (on November 28) and Sarah’s boyfriend rang and said he was concerned about her.
‘He said she was slurring words, really confused and she had numbness down the right side of her. I told him to call for an ambulance.
‘She went into the A&E at Blackpool Victoria and they later sent her home in the evening, saying she had had a panic attack.
TIMELINE OF SARAH CULLEN’S DEATH
November 26, 2014: Miss Cullen visited a walk-in centre because her finger had started to change colour. She was given medication and told to see her GP.
November 28, 2014: Miss Cullen was at home and felt numbness on her right side, became confused and was slurring her words.
She was taken to Blackpool Victoria Hospital but was believed to be having a panic attack so was sent home.
November 29, 2014: One of Miss Cullen’s friends found her collapsed on the floor of her bathroom at home, and she was rushed back to hospital.
Her condition deteriorated so she was put on life support – scans revealed she had bacterial meningitis and had suffered a stroke.
November 30, 2014: Miss Cullen remained unconscious in hospital and her condition did not improve.
December 1, 2014: Miss Cullen’s parents, Alan and Kathleen Davies, made the decision to turn off their daughter’s life support after medics told them her organs were failing and she would not recover.
‘In the morning Sarah rang and said “I’m going to have a bath” and that’s the last time we ever spoke to her.’
She added: ‘Shortly after her friend phoned and said Sarah has collapsed on the bathroom floor.’
‘She got put on a life support machine and never woke up. It was and still is horrible. Our lives will never be the same again.
‘I wouldn’t wish it on anybody, having to turn your daughter’s life support off because they say all of her organs are failing.’
Miss Cullen also suffered with learning difficulties, a blood disorder and lupus – a condition causing swelling in the joints, skin and other organs.
Her death triggered a serious ‘untoward incident investigation’ at the hospital.
The investigation found: ‘Although there are lessons to be learnt surrounding the patient’s care, it is unlikely a change in care plan would have impact on the patient’s outcome’.
Mr Davies added: ‘I don’t know why this nurse took it on herself to say Sarah had just had a panic attack. I can’t understand why.
‘Me and my wife believe if she had been kept in on her first admission she would still be alive.
‘She might have sustained some brain damage but she would still be alive.
‘We still want the hospital to get in touch with us and answer some questions.’
Senior nurse Jacqueline Baseley, who saw Miss Cullen on November 28, told the inquest: ‘I discussed with both Sarah and her boyfriend that I felt it was more of a panic attack.
Mr and Mrs Davies believe that if their daughter had been kept in the hospital the first time she went in complaining of numbness and confusion, she might still be alive today
An inquest into the death of Miss Cullen (pictured left, with step-father Alan and sister Pamela) ruled that she died of natural causes and said it was ‘unlikely’ that different care would have saved her life
‘I am sorry Sarah eventually became unconscious and went on to pass away.
‘Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I have learned that should I ever see anyone presenting themselves in a similar situation I would refer to medics or pass it over the GP working with me.’
The inquest, which ended in August 2015, recorded a verdict of death by natural causes.
A spokesman for Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust told the Blackpool Gazette it was unable to comment because of a legal battle with the parents, which is believed to have stalled years ago.
WHAT IS BACTERIAL MENINGITIS?
Meningitis is inflammation of the membranes that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord.
Anyone can be affected but at-risk people include those aged under five, 15-to-24 and over 45.
People exposed to passive smoking or with suppressed immune systems, such as patients undergoing chemotherapy, are also more at risk.
The most common forms of meningitis are bacterial and viral, with bacterial being the most deadly.
Symptoms for both include:
- Pale, blotchy skin with a rash that does not fade when compressed with a glass
- Stiff neck
- Dislike of bright lights
- Fever, and cold hands and feet
- Severe headache
- Headache is one of the main symptoms
Bacterial meningitis requires urgent treatment at hospital with antibiotics.
Some 10 per cent of bacterial cases are fatal.
Of those who survive, one in three suffer complications, including brain damage and hearing loss.
Limb amputation is a potential side effect if septicaemia (blood poisoning) occurs.
Vaccines are available against certain strains of bacteria that cause meningitis, such as tuberculosis.
Source: Meningitis Now
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