Mike Devane’s wife and brothers said they have lots of unanswered questions after the jury at the inquest into his death returned an open verdict at Cork Coroner’s Court yesterday.
Mr Devane, 44, a psychiatric nurse from Aghadoe in Co Kerry, died last October 7, just days after a routine and uneventful operation to free a nerve in a fractured wrist.
“Today has been a very sad and difficult day for the family,” his brother Sean said after the inquest.
“Mike was a vibrant fun-loving man who was extremely fit and healthy and was submitted for minor surgery. We have had to hear conflicting evidence from medical and nursing staff in relation to the care that Mike received. It leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions — why did he die? Why wasn’t there a recovery room available?”
The inquest heard how Mr Devane took off with his son Padraig, aged 11, in a microlight aircraft from a field behind their home at about 8am last September 27.
But the experienced pilot aborted the take-off because they did not climb quickly enough. Mr Devane fractured his right wrist in the landing. Padraig walked away unhurt.
The father of three went to Kerry General Hospital’s emergency department at noon and was classed as “walking wounded”.
He was placed under general anaesthetic at 8pm to free a trapped nerve in his hand and recovered in the operating theatre because the hospital’s dedicated recovery room closes at 8pm.
Anaesthetist Dr Damien Stack said he spoke to Mr Devane after the surgery and asked him if he was in pain or feeling sick. He answered no to both, Dr Stack said.
He said Mr Devane’s vital signs were normal and at about 8.20pm, he told nurse Mary Kelly to allow him back to his ward in five or 10 minutes. Ms Kelly said Mr Devane was drowsy but obeying commands.
“He was maintaining his own airway, his colour, respiration rate, oxygen, pulse and blood pressure were all within normal limits,” she said.
“I couldn’t stand over sending a patient back that I wasn’t happy with.”
Mr Devane’s condition deteriorated during the transfer and he suffered a massive cardiac arrest within a minute of returning to the ward. He slipped into a coma and died on October 6.
Assistant state pathologist, Dr Margaret Bolster, described it as a very complex case and said her postmortem revealed absolutely no heart abnormalities.
Dr Bolster said the cause of Mr Devane’s “catastrophic” deterioration was either heart related, or unknown, and pointed out that the cause of 10% of all post-operative cardiac arrests is unknown.
The cause of death was brain damage following cardiac arrest post-anaesthetic in a middle-aged male with a normal heart, she said.
The jury recommended that all hospitals have staffed, 24-hour recovery rooms, as recommended by the Association of Anaesthetists of Britain and Ireland.
Mr Devane is survived by his wife Deborah, and children Stephen, Gainne and Padraig.