The parents of a girl who died after surgery at a high-profile children’s unit say they still have unanswered questions over the ‘avoidable’ death of their daughter.
Four-year-old Mylee Weetman lost her battle for life when surgery to remove excess muscle in her heart led to two strokes, causing her brain to be ‘starved of oxygen’, an inquest heard.
The coroner recorded a narrative verdict on her death.
She died days later, shortly before the unit at Leeds General Infirmary was shut over concerns about its high death rates. An inquest into the youngster’s death heard she could have been saved had doctors performed the correct scans and recognised the seizures sooner.
The two-week hearing at Wakefield Coroner’s Court was told mother Siobhan Casey was ‘still waiting’ for answers as to why Mylee died.
Mylee, from Rossington, had been born with a heart defect called tetralogy of Fallot, meaning she had a hole in her heart as well as other complications.
She had surgery to correct the condition when she was 13 months – although her family was told she would need further surgery to remove excess muscle in March 2013. She died after extensive brain damage following the surgery.
A statement from Mylee’s family said they still had questions about her treatment in Leeds.
It added: “The staff involved in her care gave no explanation for why she died, neither at the time of her death nor during the inquest.
“We felt as if they were trying to convince us that it was just ‘one of those things’, or maybe that the hospital was in denial about what had happened.
“The coroner found that Mylee’s brain damage had been caused by an air embolism passing from one part of her heart to another, resulting in a stroke.
“We now know that a hole in Mylee’s heart, known as a VSD, had not healed over by the time of her operation, and that this left her vulnerable to air bubbles in her bloodstream.”
The family added: “We need to know why, if there were doubts about whether the hole in Mylee’s heart was still present, more steps were not taken to minimise the risks to her during and after surgery.
“Difficult as it was to hear, we are glad that the coroner heard the comments of a neurologist about whether Mylee might have survived, even if she might have suffered life-long brain damage.
“The neurologist did not accept the argument that the death was unexplained and pointed to the probability of an identifiable cause.
“It has been so distressing to relive the events around Mylee’s death.
“There have been no easy answers for us throughout this process, but we have to know the truth.
“We hope that lessons will be learned from Mylee’s story, and that this will go some way to preventing this from happening to anybody else’s child. We will never forget Mylee, and we owe it to her to find the truth about what happened to her.”
Coroner David Hinchliff said at the hearing: “A second operation was performed at Leeds General Inﬁrmary on 15 March 2013 which was performed on a beating heart without an aortic cross clamp.”
He added this allowed ‘air to pass into the left ventricle and be micro-embolised during the cardio-pulmonary bypass which ultimately reached Mylee’s brain causing obstruction to the blood flow, intracranial swelling and coning as identified on a CT scan on 17 March 2013’.
“This embolism is a rare but recognised complication of this necessary surgery and was responsible for Mylee’s rapid deterioration and her death which was recorded at 00.48 hours on the paediatric intensive care unit at Leeds General Infirmary on 21 March 2013,” said Mr Hinchliff.
Mylee’s cause of death was certified as ‘diffuse hypoxic ischaemicencephalopathy’ and ‘micro-embolic air embolism’.
Dr Yvette Oade, chief medical officer at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust expressed her deepest sympathy to Mylee’s family for the loss of their daughter.
She said she fully understood their need to know how their daughter died.
She added: “There has been a very thorough examination of the facts of the case and the Coroner concluded that while the surgery was performed correctly, Mylee sadly suffered a micro-embolic air embolism which is a rare but recognised complication of this procedure.”