Doctors did not contribute to the death of a girl, 11, with a rare neurological condition, coroner rules
The death of a critically ill 11-year-old girl with a “complicated medical history” was not caused by a reduction in her painkillers, a coroner said today.
Melody Driscoll died at King’s College Hospital (KCH) in South London in July 2018 after years of serious illness, including a rare life-limiting neurological condition called Rett syndrome.
She made headlines in 2016 when she received a visit from Ed Sheeran, who passed her bed for 90 minutes at Epsom Hospital in Surrey, singing hits including Photograph and tuning her guitar.
Melody’s mother Karina Driscoll and stepfather Nigel had claimed that the actions of KCH medics had reduced Melody’s quality of life and contributed to her death, including by falsely reducing her pain and steroid medication.
Coroner Dr. Julian Morris, speaking at the end of the inquest into the circumstances of Melody’s death at London’s Southwark Coroner’s Court, said today that she died of post-operative complications from the development of gallstones and a bowel perforation.
He gave a narrative conclusion due to the complexity of the case, saying that the “ core of the judicial investigation ” was a 3mm gallstone. Rett’s syndrome was a factor, but not a cause of her death, he added.
Her parents brought her ashes to the audience in a yellow box with Melody’s name written on it. They put it in front of them on a desk leaning quietly on top of each other with their heads together as the coroner delivered his conclusions.
Melody died in July 2018 after years of serious illness with conditions such as Rett syndrome, as well as global developmental delay, gastrointestinal problems and epilepsy
Karina and Nigel Driscoll today carried a box with Melody Driscoll’s name on the side containing her ashes to the conclusion of the inquest at Southwark Coroner’s court.
Melody Driscoll was visited by pop star Ed Sheeran at Epsom Hospital in Surrey in 2016
Nigel and Karina Driscoll, Melody Driscoll’s parents, outside Southwark Coroner’s Court
WHAT IS RETT SYNDROME?
Rett syndrome is a genetic condition that affects all body movements.
Development appears normal until the child is six to 18 months old, but then begins to suffer loss of speech and balance.
The condition can also lead to scoliosis or seizures.
Treatment such as physical therapy can help slow movement loss, but there is no cure for the condition.
Sufferers can reach their 40s, but most die before 25.
The coroner said he did not believe that Melody’s weaning from her medication contributed to her death.
Dr. Morris apologized to the family for the time it had taken for the inquest to take place, adding that he conveyed condolences that were felt “ very sincerely ” by everyone involved in the hearing.
He told the parents that he hoped they could “ go a little further ” now that they had listened to the evidence during the three-day hearing.
The coroner said there was no need to write a report to prevent future deaths in light of this case.
After the inquest, Ms. Driscoll and her husband said they felt they had been branded as “problematic parents for trying to do the best for their daughter.”
Ms. Driscoll, who said the couple was still considering whether to take legal action, added: ‘We had to say goodbye and there wasn’t enough time. She wasn’t ready to go. ‘
She added that Melody, who was largely non-verbal, had an “ impact ” on many people’s lives.
“We love her so much, even though she’s gone,” added Mrs. Driscoll.
They said they took Melody’s ashes to the inquest because it was about her death and “she had to be a part of it.”
Melody was described during the inquest as a “stunning, vibrant, happy girl who loved life.” The family’s lawyer, Patricia Hitchcock QC, had told the inquest that her parents were “haunted by the belief that Melody died of pain because she was not listened to.”
The inquest had learned that a revised post-mortem examination suggested Melody’s cause of death as multiple organ failure and gastrointestinal bleeding. Pancreatitis and the perforation of the bowel as a result of a procedure in May 2018 were also suggested as contributors to her death.
The study found that Melody’s pancreatitis can have many causes, including gallstones. Dr. Mervyn Davies, a hepatologist consultant at St James’s Hospital in Leeds, said the ‘fundamental question’ was when the gallstone started.
He said, “If she hadn’t developed the acute pancreatitis when she did, she wouldn’t have died when she did.”
Her parents Karina and Nigel Driscoll have claimed that the actions of King’s College Hospital (KCH) reduced Melody’s quality of life and contributed to her death.
Tribute to Melody Driscoll outside Southwark Coroner’s Court in London
Melody pictured with her mother Karina Driscoll before passing away in July 2018
Melody suffered from frequent severe pain requiring medication including morphine and ketamine.
Ms. Driscoll said Melody made recognizable signs when she was in pain, such as tightening her muscles and screaming.
She claimed that KCH staff had a ‘we know best attitude’ which meant that Mrs. Driscoll’s concerns were not listened to as Melody’s pain relief was reduced.
Dr. Jonathan Hind, a consultant pediatric hepatologist, said Melody suffered “ occasional ” pain, but also suffered withdrawal symptoms from being weaned off the medication.
“I think sometimes Melody had gut pain and sometimes I think it was withdrawal symptoms, and morphine would help in either situation,” he added.
Karina Driscoll, Melody Driscoll’s mother, talks to the media outside Southwark Coroner’s Court, London, after the inquest into their daughter’s death
Nigel and Karina Driscoll, Melody Driscoll’s parents, watch tribute
Ms. Driscoll’s statement added that there were ‘very serious allegations’ made against her and Melody’s stepfather about their ability to care for her