Brain swelling from use of steroid caused boy’s death

Luke O'Brien-May

A fit, sports-mad teenager died from severe brain-swelling triggered by the muscle-building steroid, Stenozolol, an inquest has found.

Assistant state pathologist, Dr Margot Bolster, said the only finding of note, following an autopsy on the body of Luke O’Brien-May, 17, was the presence of traces of Stanozolol and that a rare side-effect of taking the drug was brain swelling.

Luke’s parents, Brid and Denis, through their legal representative, Liam Carroll, junior counsel, said while they accept Luke had been taking the steroid, they said they failed to see the concrete link between its use and his eventual decline.

But Cork City Coroner, Philip Comyn, said when all other possible causes or factors are ruled out, you are left with only one probable cause. And he said, based on the clinical and autopsy evidence, he was satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that the cause of death was linked to the ingestion of the steroid.

Luke, from Grange, Kilmallock, Co Limerick, was in the middle of his Leaving Cert in June, 2017, when he first became unwell.

Ms O’Brien-May told the inquest that when Luke was younger, he had been a little concerned about his height, and she had reassured him that he would “grow in his own time”.

When asked by Mr Comyn if her son had “bulked out”, she said no, but added that he had done all of his growing since turning 17, and that he was just short of 6ft tall.

The inquest heard that Luke, a student at Castletroy College, started his Leaving Cert on June 7, 2017.

After spending the weekend with friends and family, he started vomiting on the Sunday and went to his GP, Dr Michael O’Callaghan, on the Monday morning. He was prescribed Motillium, before sitting his exams. He continued to feel unwell and returned to the GP on Tuesday, where he got an injection to stop the vomiting.

He sat his morning exam, but felt so unwell in the afternoon exam that he left after 30 minutes and was driven home to bed.

That night, June 13, 2017, he became agitated and disorientated at home. He was wandering in and out of rooms, and could not give paramedics his date of birth. He was taken by ambulance to University Hospital Limerick. The next day, his father, Denis, gave the medical team an empty pack of Stanozolol, with the name of an Indian factory on the box.

Luke was transferred to Cork University Hospital on June 16, where consultant physician, Dr Robert Plant, said the teenager’s brain swelled to a point that it triggered a “sudden and rapid decline”.

He said a brain scan on the morning of June 17 revealed devastating brain swelling, which could not be resolved by surgical intervention.

Another scan, that afternoon, showed no blood flow to the brain, which was consistent with brain death. Brain-stem tests the following morning confirmed that diagnosis and organ-donation was arranged, before death was pronounced.

Dr Plant said Luke had clearly been suffering from a brain injury for the previous days, given the vomiting and disorientation. He told Mr Comyn he could say with certainty that doctors found no other cause for the brain swelling. He said the myriad side-effects of drugs like Stanozolol on the liver, kidneys, heart, and brain are well known, but said there is increasing awareness that such drugs are also neurotoxic.

But he said people buy the muscle-building, performance-enhancing drugs online, with no clarity on the contents, purity or dosage, and take them based on anecdotal suggestions or the advice of friends in the gym.

Dr Bolster said the cause of death was severe brain swelling, following ingestion of Stanozolol.

Mr Comyn extended his sympathies to Luke’s family.

He told Luke’s parents that their eldest son’s lungs were donated to a married man in his 30s, who is doing well post-transplant; his liver was donated to a man in his early 60s, whom the inquest was told is “so grateful for a second chance in life”; and his kidneys were donated to a man in his 30s and a woman in her 20s.


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