A Father's heartache

20th May 2017

With today marking the anniversary of his daughter Izzy’s death from meningitis, Paul Gentry describes the ordeal that he and his family faced and the overwhelming feeling of loss that he still lives with to this day.

Izzy

Isabel, known to all her friends as “Izzy”, was a beautiful 16-year-old girl who was at the beginning of her adult life. She was the best and all I could have ever asked for as a daughter.

She was loving, caring, funny, an amazing friend and more. From the age of 8 years old she always said that she wanted to be a Midwife and care for children. To that aim she studied hard and at 16 years attained 12 GCSE passes, mainly A’s, A*’s and 2 B’s. She moved on to college where she was studying for a further 5 A level exams. She would often talk about how she was going to progress on to University.

Feeling unwell

On Tuesday 17th May 2016, Izzy complained of feeling unwell, mainly feeling tired and suffering from a mild headache. She had been at work on the previous Sunday and had sat an exam on Monday, so it was initially put down to studying and work.

As the day progressed Izzy’s symptoms began to worsen, she was now vomiting and had a high temperature. Concern began to increase as there had been a case of meningitis at her college two weeks previous and a Public Health England letter had been circulated to all parents of students.

511 was called, just after midnight, but during the call Izzy passed out so an Ambulance was called instead. Medical staff were advised of Izzy’s symptoms and of the letter from the college regarding meningitis. The Ambulance crew were tasked, by their control room, to attend a possible meningitis case and on arrival diagnosed a possible case of early sepsis which was recorded on their initial report.

Izzy was taken to the Bristol Royal Infirmary arriving at about 12.30am on Wednesday 18th May 2016. There was an issue at the Hospital on arrival as Izzy was 16 and it was unclear as to whether she should be admitted to the children’s or adult hospital.

She was subsequently admitted to the adult A & E. By this time, Izzy was now suffering with a severe headache, a temperature over 100, a heart rate of 120 and low blood pressure. She was given a litre of fluids and intravenous pain relief. The doctor carried out an initial examination and concluded that she was suffering from gastroenteritis, despite the information that he had been presented with.

Discharged

By 3am the doctor had decided that Izzy would be discharged if she improved. Izzy was discharged from A & E at about 5.30am. This was despite having had medication, and still having a high temperature, headache, muscle and limb pain, high heart rate and low blood pressure.

Izzy went home and her condition began to worsen. 511 was contacted again, as was the family doctor’s surgery. By about 4.30pm Izzy began to convulse and it was apparent that she was having the beginnings of a neurological condition.

She was taken to the adult A & E at Bristol Royal Infirmary once again. At about 5.30pm, the senior Consultant advised us that Izzy was seriously ill with suspected meningitis and that she was being transferred to the Intensive Care Unit at the hospital.

By this time, she was heavily sedated and on a life support system. The intention was to keep Izzy in a controlled coma until the following morning when they would awaken her and reassess her condition.

Deteriorated

At 11.30pm we were advised that Izzy’s condition had deteriorated so much that there was no chance of recovery. Her brain had expanded to the extent that it had herniated on to her spinal cord causing multiple organ failure.

Due to medical procedures Izzy remained on life support until Friday 20th May. At 7.30pm she was declared brain dead and the life support systems were turned off.

Izzy’s funeral was held on 10th June 2016. Approximately 300 people attended - a mixture of family, friends and work colleagues. As to be expected this was a very emotional event.

Many of Izzy’s friends made personal tributes which only went to reinforce the type of girl she was. A very poignant tribute was from a student at Izzy’s college which simply said, “I didn’t know you very well but just wanted to say thank you for talking to me at the bus stop”. It didn’t matter who you were or what you looked like Izzy would be your friend, smile and talk.

Due to issues surrounding Izzy’s death and concerns over her initial hospital treatment, an inquest was held from 13th to 17th March 2017, which was conducted by the Bristol Senior Coroner. Evidence was heard from 23 witnesses including two independent medical experts.

Neglect

Our worst fears were realised when it was found that Izzy had received substandard medical care, and that if she had received the appropriate medical care on first attendance at the A & E Department of the Bristol Royal Infirmary, she would be alive today.

The Coroner concluded that Isabel died of natural causes contributed to by neglect. Several issues arose out of the inquest which Madam Coroner described as "Gross failings". They were as follows:

1. The doctor in the BRI did not take an accurate history.
2. The observations and bloods taken in hospital were abnormal.
3. The observations and bloods were not considered in light of the fluid and medication prescribed.
4. A diagnosis of gastroenteritis was not appropriate.
5. The previous case of meningitis was not acted upon.
6. No senior review was carried out.

Words cannot describe the pain and loss that we are all feeling at losing Izzy. Not a moment passes without thinking about her. I do not think that the pain will ever go away, but eventually we will find a way to cope with it.

We cannot bring Izzy back and she would not want us to give up on life and grieve for her. I do not want Izzy’s death to have been in vain, she had no choice about what happened and it would be disrespectful to just waste my life. To that end, I am going to do all I can to prevent such tragedy happening to another family, through sharing Izzy’s story and developing awareness of this cruel disease.

Fundraising

I will also be supporting the meningitis charities in their invaluable work through participating in charity events to raise vital funds. In June this year, I am participating in the 3 Peaks challenge, climbing the 3 highest peaks in the UK in under 36 hours. In July, I will be walking 100km across the Cotswold way, hopefully in less than 24hrs, and in September I will be walking 100km along the Thames River Path, from Putney Bridge, London, to Henley-on-Thames. I hope to do this in less than 22hrs.

I will be doing this in memory of Izzy and I know she will be with me all the way.