Fleetwood woman, 25, suffered 18 months of recurring health problems before being rushed to hospital in critical condition and dying four months later

A 25-year-old woman died of a rare infection almost two years after she was struck with recurring abscesses and skin problems that baffled her doctors.

Tuesday, 27th April 2021, 7:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 28th April 2021, 9:30 am
Coral O'Donnell
Coral O'Donnell

Coral O'Donnell, 25, of Mount View, Fleetwood attended her local GP surgery, walk-in centre, and Blackpool Victoria Hospital numerous times in the 18 months leading up to January 2019 due to recurring abscesses on her face, neck and armpits.

On January 8, she phoned her sister 'in tears' after attending an appointment with a nurse at Fleetwood surgery, who she felt did not take her cough and cold-like symptoms seriously.

Two days later she was taken to Blackpool Victoria Hospital in a critical condition, where she remained in intensive care for 42 days. Her family was told she was suffering from double pneumonia and sepsis.

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She was sedated and placed on a ventilator while doctors tried to figure out the cause of her severe breathing problems. Her blood was tested for tuberculosis and the MRSA superbug, however, these came back negative.

It was almost five weeks before she was finally diagnosed with Panton Valentine Leukocidin - a deadly toxin that can kill white blood cells, and thus destroy the immune system.

She was transferred to Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester, where she remained for two months before eventually dying on May 17.

At her inquest at Blackpool Town Hall yesterday, coroner Alan Wilson heard from GP Ayesha Ahmed, who saw miss O'Donnell at Fleetwood Surgery on November 8, and nurse Sara Davies, who saw her at the walk-in clinic just two days before she was first admitted to hospital.

Dr Ahmed said she prescribed Miss O'Donnell with a round of antibiotics she had requested, following on from another round of the drug that had been prescribed five days earlier, to clear up an abscess on her face that was 'soft and discharging and not painful'.

When asked by the coroner if she suspected Miss O'Donnell may have been suffering from PVL, she said she had never come across the infection before, and that she 'hadn't heard of it before'.

On January 8, while her parents were on holiday, Miss O'Donnell, who worked as a fishmonger, attended the Fleetwood walk-in centre after suffering from flu-like symptoms for five days.

She was examined by nurse Sara Davies, who reported she had 'no signs of a bacterial infection' and advised her to carry on using paracetamol and olbas oil to treat her symptoms.

Miss O'Donnell's sister Jade asked Ms Davies, who attended court via video link: "Can you recall from that day anything that would tell you why (Coral) was extremely upset after having an appointment with you? Immediately after the appointment she called me, very upset, saying she didn't think that you took her symptoms seriously and that you were quite rude to her.

"She was in tears on the phone."

Ms Davies replied: "I personally take pride in my job and I make sure I do a thorough examination."

Two days later, Miss O'Donnell's mother returned from her holiday to find her daughter in bed looking 'grey', and called an ambulance.

She was taken to Blackpool Victoria Hospital at around 10pm, where she was seen in A&E by Dr Robert Downes, who said her symptoms were so severe that he thought she was possibly suffering from undiagnosed leukemia. Her white blood cell count was 0.6, indicating she was 'extremely sick and may have some underlying conditions'.

He said: "I thought if it was flu, it was the worst case of flu I'd ever seen."

He arranged for Coral to be transferred to intensive care for further observation. At around 3.30am her condition worsened and plans were made for her to be put on a ventilator, and to under a bronchoscopy.

When asked about PVL, Dr Downes said he had only seen the infection once before in his 25-year career.

The inquest continues.