An aspiring doctor tragically died after an allergic reaction to a drug given to her during routine surgery and a senior coroner has warned that many more allergy sufferers could die due to a “lack of national leadership.”
“Smart and beloved” teen Alexandra Briess, 17, died of a reaction to a common anesthetic while having her tonsils removed.
She suffered an ‘unpredictable’ fatal anaphylactic reaction to Rocuronium after being given the drug under routine procedure at the NHS in Reading, Berkshire.
Senior coroner Heidi Connor has said the ‘tragic’ case was ‘not new territory’, and citing three recent cases where people had died of anaphylaxis, she has written to the government calling for better funding and research into the condition, and the appointment of a czar for allergies.
Following Alexandra’s inquest, Coroner Ms Connor has written to Health Secretary Steve Barclay, the NHS and allergy organizations demanding change.
Alexandra Briess (pictured) had an ‘unpredictable’ fatal anaphylactic reaction
The teen had been given rocuronium in a routine procedure to remove her tonsils
She had never had the drug before and suffered a ‘sudden deterioration and cardiac arrest’
Allergy charities in the UK have long called for more funding to research the area that is notoriously underfunded.
Ms Connor has called for a new job to be created within the NHS to act as the leader for allergies at national level, overseeing and coordinating funding and research.
Currently, the organizations are already there and showing ‘good will’ to understand allergies, but they need to be ‘connected’ and working together.
If not, more people are at risk of death, Ms Connor writes in her report Prevention of future deaths.
She said: ‘The only way to improve understanding and prevent or reduce future deaths is to collect information at the national level and fund appropriate research. Appropriate organizations already exist and there is much good will to improve understanding in this area. It does require national leadership and ‘plugging in’ from these organizations.
“There is a lot of goodwill and will to improve in many organizations involved in anaphylaxis work.
What is missing is national leadership and funding. In my view, consideration should be given to creating a leadership role and responsibility within NHS England to co-ordinate a national approach.’
Alexandra, who planned to study medicine herself and volunteered at a children’s charity, had never used the drug and was suffering from “sudden deterioration and cardiac arrest.”
Alexandra planned to study medicine herself and volunteered at a children’s charity.
Ms Connor said it should be mandatory for fatal reactions to be referred to the UK Fatal Anaphylaxis Registry (UKFAR), something charities have been asking for for some time.
What Are the Symptoms of an Anaphylactic Reaction?
According to the NHS, anaphylaxis usually develops suddenly and gets worse very quickly.
The symptoms include:
- feeling light-headed or fainting
- breathing difficulties – such as rapid, shallow breathing
- a fast heartbeat
- clammy skin
- confusion and fear
- collapse or lose consciousness
There may also be other allergy symptoms, including an itchy, raised rash (hives); feeling sick or being sick; swelling (angioedema) or stomach pain.
UKFAR, which is happy to take on the task, can then distribute information between relevant organisations, Ms Connor said.
The information sharing process should be prioritized, she said.
She added: “Collecting data and using it to conduct research and reduce the risk of future deaths requires funding, and this needs to be reviewed.”
In her report, Ms Connor cited three cases where three Britons died of allergies and coroners expressed similar concerns.
They were Celia Marsh, a 42-year-old mother who died after eating a ‘vegan’ Pret A Manger wrap with milk in it, 18-year-old Shante Turay-Thomas who ate hazelnut at her family’s house, and 14-year-old Ruben Bousquet who contaminated popcorn with milk in a movie theater.
In all three cases, their coroners warned that more money is needed to stop allergy-related deaths.
“This isn’t new territory,” Mrs. Connor said.
Alexandra’s inquest learned that she died at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading on May 31, 2021, after being given Rocuronium. A week before she underwent an uneventful tonsillectomy, she began bleeding post-surgery and required another surgery on May 30. She had the reaction during anesthesia and could not be saved.
A tribute page set up in her memory raised nearly £9,000, with friends fondly remembering the ‘beautiful’ girl who was a ‘loyal and loving friend with a great sense of fun’.
Alexandra is survived by her retired doctor, father David, and mother Tanya, who is a general practitioner.
The family, who live in a £1.5 million home in Henley-On-Thames, Oxfordshire, declined to comment.
A tribute page set up in her memory raised nearly £9,000, with friends fondly remembering the ‘beautiful’ girl
Alexandra is survived by her retired doctor, father David, and mother Tanya, who is a general practitioner
The parents of Briton Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who died aged 15 in 2016 after suffering a severe allergic reaction to sesame in a Pret A Manger baguette on board a flight to France, have since her death campaigned for a better allergy policy.
Tanya Ednan-Laperouse OBE, co-founder of The Natasha Allergy Research Foundation, said: ‘Our thoughts are with Alexandra’s family. Their tragic loss once again sheds powerful light on the growing number of young people dying of anaphylaxis.
“Alexandra’s coroner, like those in the investigations of Shante Turay-Thomas, Celia Marsh, Ruben Bousquet and many others, has called for urgent action that must and must be taken by the government.
“We have long advocated for ministers to appoint an Allergy Czar to champion the plight of allergy sufferers and for a proper national register of fatal and near-fatal cases of anaphylaxis.
As Alexandra’s coroner bluntly notes, “This is not new territory.” Yet in this country there is still no one responsible for allergies. Frankly, we are tired of delays and ambiguity by ministers. The government has the power to help prevent other families from suffering such terrible grief. Ministers must act quickly and properly.’
According to her report, Mr Barclay has until June 2 to respond.