Inquest hears of missed chances to help boy who died from asthma attack
Mother says she warned doctors that her son would die without treatment but was turned away
15 March, 2017 — By Tom Foot
THE mother of a nine-year-old chess champion has told an inquest how she warned doctors her son would die if he was discharged from hospital without treatment, just days before his death. Ayelet Uriely, who lives in West Hampstead, said she was told by medics at the Royal Free’s accident and emergency department to stop being “hysterical” as her son Michael was discharged without treatment during two separate visits to the Hampstead hospital.
He died from an extreme asthma attack six days later at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington. The inquest at Westminster Magistrates Court was told yesterday (Wednesday) that there had been a total of “11 opportunities to test, diagnose and treat him” before his death on August 25, 2015.
Ms Uriely, 52, told the court about her trips to the Royal Free on August 18 and August 19 that year with her son suffering coughing fits, vomiting and a swollen neck. “I said, ‘I am scared my son will die tonight’,” Ms Uriely said. “Michael was saying, ‘why won’t they believe me? I’m afraid to die’.”
She told the court: “He never complained. He had a huge amount of resilience. I said to him: ‘I’m your mummy, I am not going to let anything happen to you’. Calmness and composure was part of his character.” At times, she added, he could play four hour games of chess without getting agitated.
They had returned to the Royal Free on consecutive days because Michael’s condition had continued to “deteriorate” through the night, said Ms Uriely, who told how her son had violently thrown up in the paediatric waiting area. On both occasions, he was discharged from the hospital in Pond Street without treatment.
“I was extremely concerned,” said Ms Uriely. “He was suffocated. He was – it’s a strange thing to say about my boy – but his neck had swollen, he looked like a bull.”
She was told by a junior doctor that an asthma attack “had already been excluded” and she should go home and book a follow-up appointment with a GP.
Dr Aisha Laskor, a locum at the St John’s Wood Medical Practice, told the inquest she was “very concerned” when she later saw Michael, who fell ill while competing in the Mind Sports Olympiad chess competition at the JW3 Centre in Finchley Road. His condition was the “worst I had ever seen him”, she said, adding that her “gut feeling” was to send him back to hospital.
But, in tearful testimony, Dr Laskor said she decided to send him home solely because his mother had said he “was better” since the discharge. She accepted this reasoning was not in her doctor’s notes.
In cross examination, Adam Korn, a lawyer representing the family, asked her: “It’s not true, is it, that Mrs Uriely said Michael had got better?” He suggested Dr Laskor was making it up to “justify” her decision to send him home.
Dr Laskor also told the court she watched Michael take “10 puffs” from an inhaler – but this was also disputed as having not occurred by Ms Uriely’s lawyer.
“Your recollection is completely different?”, coroner Dr Shirley Radcliffe asked Dr Laskor.
“Yes,” she said.
Dr Radcliffe told the court that in the early hours of August 25, Michael’s father Roy had said that he had “suddenly gone quiet and was no longer responsive”. The boy was taken by ambulance paramedics to St Mary’s, but “never regained consciousness” and was later pronounced dead.
Dr Radcliffe said: “There were 11 opportunities within seven months to appropriately test, diagnose and treat him.”
A memorial chess tournament was held in April last year and December’s “Super Rapidplay” at the London Chess Classic 2016 was also held in memory of Michael.
Newspaper columnist Dominic Lawson, the president of the English Chess Federation, spoke at a commemoration event on what would have been Michael’s 10th birthday. He later wrote in the Daily Mail that Michael’s grandmaster chess tutor had said to him that Michael “could have gone on to achieve anything in whatever field he chose – but he had not a trace of arrogance. He always accepted defeat graciously. He was a sweet boy”.
Mr Lawson added that Michael had been seen as a “miracle child” after being born after four years of IVF treatment when his parents had “almost given up hope” of having a baby.
“At this commemoration, which might have seemed unbearably sad, they were not just utterly composed, but even seemed to glow from something within,” he said. “They simply exuded pride in Michael’s achievements, and pleasure that so many of his friends, teachers – and team-mates from chess and football – had turned up. There were well over a hundred of us and, at the end of the speeches, we all stood to applaud Michael and his parents.”
The inquest, scheduled to conclude tomorrow (Friday), continues.