The widow of a 77-year-old farmer who died shortly after contracting a killer bug has called for farmers to be made aware of the rare and deadly form of sepsis.
West Clare woman and mother of three Irene Whelan was speaking at the inquest in Ennis into the death of her husband Tom en route to hospital in an ambulance at Lack West, Kilmihil on August 15 last.
Mr Whelan’s jeep had veered off the road near Kilrush on the morning of August 15 last and emergency services were called to the scene.
Mr Whelan had no visible injuries and paramedic Paul Daly told the inquest that within 10 to 15 minutes of him arriving Mr Whelan went into cardiac arrest and was unresponsive.
Mr Daly said that at the scene Mr Whelan had earlier complained of a pain in his stomach.
Efforts to resuscitate Mr Whelan from Cappa Drive, Kilrush failed and he was pronounced dead in the ambulance near Kilmihil.
An air ambulance that had been called into to bring Mr Whelan to hospital was stood down.
The post mortem found that Mr Whelan died from sudden heart failure due to Clostridal Sepsis or 'gas gangrene' in his system.
Consultant pathologist, Dr Gabor Laskai told the inquest that ‘gas gangrene’ if it goes untreated results in death in 100% of cases and even when treated results in death in 60% of cases.
Dr Laskai said that ‘gas gangrene’ can be contracted through contact with soil or animal faeces.
He said: “It is a very serious and very dangerous infection.”
Under questioning from grandmother of four, Mrs Whelan, Dr Laskai was unable to state how exactly Mr Whelan contracted the bug or how long it was in his system.
Mrs Whelan told the inquest: “The dangers of this form of sepsis getting into the system should be highlighted more for farmers because this was a perfectly healthy man doing his work five minutes before this.”
Speaking outside the inquest after a jury had returned a verdict in accordance with the medical evidence, Mrs Whelan said that the family weren’t able to see Tom’s body after he died and weren’t able to have an open coffin at his funeral because of the aggressive nature of the bug.
Mrs Whelan said: “The body deteriorated immediately with this bacteria.”
Mrs Whelan stated that farmers Tom’s age wouldn’t be the best around hygiene, saying that he had farmed for around 60 years.
A beef and suckler farmer, Mr Whelan was well known in Clare farming circles and Mrs Whelan said: “Tom should have been immune to every kind of a germ - he was doing this all this life. The younger farmers wear gloves, the older farmers don’t.”
Mrs Whelan said that Tom had no wounds on his skin unless he got the gas gangrene from the scratch of a briar. She said: “We’ll never know now anyway.”
Mrs Whelan said that Tom got a kick of a bull two to three weeks before his death and asked at the inquest was this how her husband contracted the bug.
Dr Laskai said that was possible but stated that gas gangrene usually acts more quickly than that.
Mrs Whelan said that the family were “absolutely stunned” to get the results of the post mortem in December which showed that Tom died from the rare form of sepsis.
She said: “We couldn’t get over it. We thought it might have been a brain haemorrhage or something like that. Tom had no notion of dying. He worked everyday farming."
At the inquest, Garda John Cahill said that he arrived at the crash scene and in his deposition, he said that Mr Whelan was not in favour of going to the GP.
Garda Cahill said Mr Whelan was lying up against the side of his land cruiser and was more concerned about getting the jeep back out of dyke, and that he had stock to check and said that he would rest later in the day.
Garda Cahill said that Mr Whelan wasn’t able to explain how the jeep ended up in the ditch.
One of Mr Whelan’s three sons, Diarmuid arrived at the scene and said that he was relieved to see there was minimal damage from the car accident.
He said: “His colour was fairly pale and I put that down to the shock of the accident. His only concern was about getting the jeep out of the dyke and I told him not to be worrying about that.”
Mrs Whelan also stated that the post mortem found that all of her husband’s arteries were blocked.
She said: “Maybe with what happened he was spared from something far worse - he might have got a serious stroke.”