Woodbridge: Grieving family in ‘learn lessons’ plea after teen’s peanut cake death
PUBLISHED: 10:28 30 June 2011
The family of a teenager who suffered a fatal allergic reaction to cake containing traces of peanut have commemorated the life of a “beautiful, intelligent and selfless young woman”.
Following an inquest into the death of 19-year-old medical student, Poppy Harvey, her family hoped experts may better understand how to prevent similar tragedies and called for clearer advice to be given to acute sufferers.
Poppy had been a full-time care worker at Woodbridge’s Grove Court care home for a year, and was to start training as a doctor at Brighton and Sussex Medical School, when she unwittingly ate a piece of cake containing peanut and suffered a severe reaction which led to her death on June 20, 2010.
After injecting herself with adrenaline from two EpiPens, she fell into a deep anaphylactic coma and died within three hours of first recognising the reaction.
Her family, who live in Woodbridge, said she was healthy, fit and active and had “everything to live for”.
They believe she may have been saved by a more efficient distribution of adrenaline into her system and have urged pharmaceutical companies to heed the call of some researchers for longer needles on adrenaline injectors.
A pathologist’s report suggested the EpiPen needles had failed to penetrate Poppy’s muscle, and had instead delivered adrenaline into the subcutaneous layer beneath her skin, which can slow down its effect.
But the inquest could not find conclusive evidence to support this suggestion and the EpiPen’s distributor made clear the needle length served “as many people, as safely as possible”.
Her father, Steve Harvey, also lamented the apparent breakdown in communication between paramedics and A&E staff at Ipswich Hospital, which had received a pre-alert call warning of Poppy’s serious condition.
It led to a delayed response for which the hospital has accepted responsibility and apologised.
Mr Harvey said: “Ipswich Hospital failed to have a team ready to receive her, despite a warning from the ambulance staff, but we know that the hospital has learned from this and has taken steps to improve.
“Although the ambulance and paramedics did all they possibly could, it seems likely that lack of oxygen to her brain had done irreversible damage even before she arrived at the hospital.’’
Though Poppy showed improvement after the injections and had decided to return to work, her condition later seriously deteriorated.
Her father claimed the needles were too short to deliver sufficient adrenaline to her muscles in time.
ALK-Abelló, which distributed EpiPens in the UK at the time of Poppy’s death, said Poppy’s briefly improved condition following the injections suggested adrenaline had effectively entered her circulation.
The company’s Medical Director, Dr Stephen Lombardelli, said the length of needle was “correct in the majority of cases”, adding: “It has never been in question that the EpiPen is an emergency first aid treatment and that medical advice should always be sought. That is made very clear.”
Poppy’s mother, father and younger sister all witnessed her death.
Her mother, Marcia, recalled her final moments, saying: “While we wouldn’t have wished to be anywhere other than by her side, it was a terrifying, horrific, agonising death that will be seared on our minds and haunt us forever.
“Poppy’s ambition was to save lives.
“She wanted to volunteer for MSF, the international medical charity, when she qualified as a doctor.
“She did not live long enough to do that, but the tragedy of her death has helped anaphylaxis specialists understand far more about how to prevent deaths.”