Reducing Pain Medication Not a Factor in Rett Syndrome Girl's Death: Coroner

Helen William

April 01, 2021

The death of a seriously ill 11-year-old girl who had a "complicated medical history" was not contributed to by a reduction in her pain medication, a coroner has said.

Melody Driscoll/PA Media

She was in the headlines in 2016 when she was visited by Ed Sheeran, who made a 90-minute visit to her bedside at Epsom Hospital in Surrey during which he sang hits including Photograph and tuned her guitar.

Melody's mother Karina Driscoll and her stepfather Nigel had alleged KCH medics' actions reduced Melody's quality of life and contributed to her death, including by improperly reducing her pain and steroid medications.
 

Gallstone

Coroner Dr Julian Morris, speaking at the conclusion of the inquest into the circumstances of Melody's death at London's Southwark Coroner's Court, said she died after suffering post-operative complications following the development of gallstones and a bowel perforation.

He gave a narrative conclusion due to the complexities of the case and said the "nub of the inquest" 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 hearing in a yellow box with Melody's name written on the front of it.

They placed it in front of them on a desk as they quietly leant on each other with their heads together as the coroner delivered his conclusions.

The coroner said he did not believe that the action of weaning Melody off her medication contributed to her death.

Dr Morris apologised to the family for the length of time it had taken for the inquest to take place, adding that he passed on condolences which were "very sincerely felt" by everyone who had been involved in the hearing.

He told the parents he hoped they may be able to "move on in some small way" now they had listened to the evidence during the 3-day hearing.
 

'Problematic Parents'

The coroner said there was no need to send a written report to prevent future deaths in light of this case.

After the inquest, Mrs Driscoll and her husband said they had felt they had been branded as "problematic parents for trying to do the best for their daughter".

Mrs Driscoll, who said the couple were still considering whether they could take legal action, added: "We had to say goodbye and there was not enough time. She was not 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 has gone," Mrs Driscoll added.

They said they had brought Melody's ashes to the inquest because it was about her death and "she needed to be part of it all".

Melody was described during the inquest as a "stunning, vibrant, happy little girl who loved life".

The family's barrister Patricia Hitchcock QC had told the inquest that her parents were "haunted by the belief that Melody died in pain because she was not listened to".

The inquest had heard that a revised post-mortem examination proposed Melody's cause of death as multiple organ failure and gastrointestinal haemorrhage.

Pancreatitis and the perforation of the bowel due to a procedure in May 2018 were also suggested as contributing to her death.

The inquest heard that Melody's pancreatitis could have many causes, including gallstones.

Dr Mervyn Davies, a consultant hepatologist at St James's Hospital in Leeds, said the "fundamental question" was when the gallstone arose.

He said: "If she had not developed the acute pancreatitis when she did, she would not have died when she did."

Melody suffered from regular severe pain requiring medications including morphine and ketamine.

Mrs Driscoll said that Melody made recognisable signs when she was in pain, including tensing her muscles and shouting.

She claimed that KCH staff had a "we know best attitude" that meant Mrs Driscoll's concerns were not listened to when Melody's pain relief was reduced.

Dr Jonathan Hind, a consultant paediatric hepatologist, said Melody "occasionally" suffered pain, but also suffered from withdrawals as the medication was weaned.

Dr Hind said: "I do think that sometimes Melody had pain from the bowel and other times I do think it was withdrawals, and in both situations, morphine would help."

This article contains information from PA Media.

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