Mother: ‘I thought my daughter was safe in hospital’

Inquest is told of ‘lost chance’ to save woman, 25, with brain swelling

Friday, 18th February — By Anna Lamche

Gaia Young 2019-2020 NYE 2

Gaia Young died of cerebral oedema after being admitted to UCLH last July

A HOSPITAL has apologised to the mother of a woman who died of a sudden swelling of her brain after an inquest heard how better management of her case “would have afforded her a better chance of survival”.

Gaia Young, daughter of the late Labour peer Michael Young, died of cerebral oedema – or swelling of the brain – last July. The 25-year-old had been admitted to University College London Hospital (UCLH) after being struck by a severe headache.

On the same day, she had spent time cycling and having dinner with her mother and friends.

During dinner, the pain came on so suddenly that Gaia “left the table mid-sentence”, her mother Dorit Young told the Tribune.

Shortly after, she developed “vomiting bouts” before an ambulance arrived.

Ms Young, who couldn’t go to hospital with her daughter because of Covid restrictions, said: “When paramedics put Gaia in the ambulance, I thought, she is going to the best and safest hospital in the world.”

Gaia arrived at UCLH that evening – and, in Ms Young’s words, “within 16 hours she was effectively dead”.

St Pancras Coroner’s Court was told this week that because it was a Saturday night and Gaia was a young woman, medics initially suspected she was intoxicated. Gaia’s speech was confused and she repeated phrases such as “I need to be patient” and “I made a mistake”.

And while doctors gave Gaia fluid resuscitation and anti-sickness medica­tion, they failed to perform a brain scan upon arrival.

“There were about 10 hours when the diagnosis of intoxication stuck,” Ms Young said.

Among her many interests, the 25-year-old enjoyed ballroom dancing

She blames a failure of communication – the hospital called her twice but from a withheld number and left no mes­sage – for this diagnosis.

“If anyone had asked me I would have told them. It’s simply not possible that she would have been recreationally intoxicated,” she told the inquest.

The next day, Ms Young told a nurse that her daughter could not be intoxicated. Still confounded by her case, medics on the acute ward began exploring other possibilities, ranging from heat stroke to a brain infection.

When a brain scan was finally done, the “subtle” signs of a brain oedema were not noticed.

Dr Thomas Samuels, the doctor in charge of Gaia’s care, told the inquest: “Gaia was the patient I was most concerned about… I prioritised her,” later adding: “I’ve thought about this an awful lot, and based on the information I had, I don’t think I would have done anything differently.”

When asked how Gaia died, Dr Samuels said: “I don’t know.”

He had attempted to perform two lumbar punctures – which involved arranging Gaia on her side in a foetal position. At the first attempt she complained of a headache, the inquest heard. At the second attempt, she went into respiratory arrest, after which point there was “no neurological recovery”, and Gaia had effectively died.

Coroner Mary Hassell said in a narrative verdict: “We’re looking here at a lost chance,” adding that had the oedema been detected earlier, Gaia would have received different treatment such as “head-up” nursing and rapid admission to intensive care.

What caused Gaia’s oedema is still not understood today.

Gaia’s death has been described as a ‘tragedy’ by all those familiar with her case

A post-mortem examination found no evidence of infection or intoxication. “I don’t know” was a refrain repeated throughout the inquest by pathologists, nurses and doctors. Ms Young had asked the inquest: “How can it be that a previously healthy young woman dies in a leading hospital and yet nobody knows why?”

Ms Hassell told the court: “It is clear from the evidence Gaia died from cerebral oedema. The cause of this remains unclear. It is possible that the cause of the cerebral oedema was hypernatremia. If the cause was hypernatremia, better management would have afforded her a better chance of survival.”

On Wednesday, Ms Young described the coroner’s verdict as “a kind of victory”, but added that the inquest could have considered further expert opinions to understand the precise cause of the oedema.

A ballroom dancer, painter, crafter, photographer and aspiring writer, Gaia’s death at such a young age has been described as a “tragedy” by all those familiar with her case. In Ms Young’s words, she was “a much-loved, beautiful, and healthy young woman” who “lost the chance to live”.

A UCLH spokesperson said: “Our heartfelt condolences go to Gaia’s family and friends at this sad and difficult time. We are sorry Gaia’s mother was not kept updated as she should have been during her daughter’s care and we recognise the distress this has caused.”

They added: “The coroner could not say that different care could have prevented Gaia’s death but we acknowledge some things could have been done better.

“We are developing new clinical guidance and training in response to the learning from our investigation. We have invited Gaia’s mother to meet with us to discuss our findings and offer our support.”

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