A FAMILY that had to ask a coroner to investigate their mother’s death has spoken out to ensure similar tragedies are prevented.
Breda Dunlea, 69, of Ballybrack, Carrignavar, Co Cork, died on December 12, 2006, after antibiotics prescribed by her GP to treat a chest infection interacted with the blood-thinning medication warfarin, Cork City Coroner’s Court was told.
It triggered a fatal brain haemorrhage, but doctors in the Mercy University Hospital recorded her death as due to “natural causes” and no postmortem was ordered.
Ms Dunlea’s family became suspicious about the circumstances surrounding the prescription of antibiotics to her in the weeks before her death and they contacted the coroner’s office seeking an inquest.
The inquest yesterday heard how gaps in communications between GPs and warfarin clinics contributed to her death.
Ms Dunlea’s GP since 1979, Dr Noel O’Regan, and practice colleague, Dr Cecilia Kingston, said they were not aware of how her warfarin regime was being monitored by the warfarin clinic when they prescribed the antibiotics.
And they said they depend largely on pharmacists to flag possible interactions between prescribed drugs and existing medications.
The inquest heard how a locum pharmacist dealt with one of Ms Dunlea’s prescriptions and did not flag it with her GP.
The inquest was also told that warfarin clinic tests on Ms Dunlea on September 7, October 5 and November 11 show her INR levels — the ratio of the time taken for a patient’s blood to clot compared with a normal person — were normal, between 2 and 3.5.
Suffering from a chest infection, Ms Dunlea attended Dr O’Regan on October 13 and November 13 and was prescribed Augmentin on the first visit and Erythromycin on the second.
But the infection didn’t clear and she attended the practice again on November 21 and was seen by Dr Kingston, who prescribed the powerful Clarythromycin.
Two days later, Ms Dunlea collapsed at home and was rushed to the hospital where tests showed her INR levels had shot up to 11.9, sparking the bleeding into her brain. Her condition worsened and she died on December 12.
Mercy University Hospital consultant Dr Terry O’Connor said it is difficult to say which antibiotic contributed to the drift in her INR levels. But he said he now accepts her death was not due to natural causes.
He said in his opinion, Ms Dunlea died from a brain haemorrhage due to elevated INR levels due to the interaction between the antibiotics and warfarin.
City coroner Dr Myra Cullinane issued a new death certificate recording the new details.
Ms Dunlea’s family said they wanted the circumstances surrounding her death highlighted in the hope that people would learn from her death. Flanking their father, Nicholas, outside the coroner’s court, the couple’s children Seamus, Fiona, Frances, Nick, Paul and Michael described their mother as a caring, intelligent, hardworking, positive and determined lady.
Married to Nicholas for 46 years, they had 11 grandchildren.
A qualified confectioner, Ms Dunlea was a successful businesswoman who opened several bakeries in Cork City over the years.
Her last bakery was in Blackpool, which closed about 16 years ago.
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