Pensioner choked and collapsed in ‘cafe coronary’

A 70-year-old man choked and collapsed while eating lunch in the dining room of a daycare centre in Rathmore, Co Kerry, in what was described at the inquest as an incident of “cafe coronary”.

A significant risk factor was the lack of teeth for chewing food, and, unfortunately, according to the coroner for south Kerry, Terence Casey, coroner’s court sittings in Kerry come across mealtime deaths fairly regularly.

A number of manoeuvres were performed on Dermot Dennehy, of Cools, Rathmore, but they failed to revive him.

The inquest in Killarney also heard how a local community defibrillator failed to function.

The jury returned a verdict of accidental death, in accordance with the findings of the postmortem carried out by Dr Margot Bolster, the state pathologist.

She found that a piece of chicken had lodged in the larynx and paramedics could not remove it.

She described what had occurred as “cafe coronary” which results in sudden collapse and death.

Dr Bolster said “poor dentition” is a recognised risk factor in such sudden collapses while eating. She said Mr Dennehy’s dentition was poor as most of his upper teeth were missing.

Staff nurse Irene O’Leary, in her deposition, said that at 1.05pm on March 9 last, Mr Dennehy was eating lunch in the dining room of Teach Mhuire. He stood up suddenly, was distressed, gasping for air, and appeared to be choking.

O’Leary performed backslaps and the Heimlich manoeuvre, but Mr Dennehy remained unresponsive and collapsed to the floor. CPR with the assistance of another staff nurse was also performed. A local community automated emergency defibrillator was employed “but it failed to function”, said Ms O’Leary.

Paramedics were called but also failed to revive him. He was pronounced dead by a GP at 2.10 pm.

A postmortem was carried out at University Hospital Kerry in Tralee by Dr Bolster.

A piece of chicken had lodged in the upper airways and Mr Dennehy had been on long-term psychiatric medication, she found.

“These are recognised risk factors in ‘cafe coronary’,” said Dr Bolster in her report, read to the inquest by the coroner.

Mr Casey, the coroner, extended his deepest sympathy to the family but said that “unfortunately, I come across this fairly regularly in this county”.

The lack of teeth for chewing food was the biggest problem, he said.


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