Tragedy as kind-hearted trainee solicitor died in Sheffield day after brain surgery

A promising trainee solicitor died of natural causes at a Sheffield hospital a day after she underwent brain surgery to remove a benign tumour that could have resulted in her going blind.

Tuesday, 17th May 2022, 1:21 pm

Loss of sight

In the three to four weeks preceneding the death of 26-year-old Rotherham woman, Francesca Jaszczyk, who was known as ‘Fran,’ she had begun to lose sight in her left eye.

During a hearing held on May 16, Sheffield Coroners’ Court at the Sheffield Medico Legal Centre heard how Fran underwent an MRI and was found to have a benign meningoma, or tumour, in her skull base which contained her eye sockets.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Trainee solicitor Francesca Jaszczyk died after a brain operation

Fran risked losing the rest of her sight if the tumour was not removed, and she underwent brain surgery at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital to remove it on July 15 last year.

Although Fran initially recovered well from both the surgery and the anaesthesia, the court was told how her condition deteriorated rapidly in the early hours of the following day, and despite extensive treatment by medics in the hospital’s Neuro Critical Care unit she died on July 16.

Nine-hour surgery to remove tumour

Consultant Neurosurgeon at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, Thomas Carroll, specialises in skull base procedures. He carried out Fran’s nine-hour surgery, and was able to successfully remove most of her tumour.

The inquest of Rotherham woman, Francesca Jaszczyk, known as ‘Fran,’ who died a day after undergoing brain surgery was held at the Medico Legal Centre in Sheffield

Giving evidence, he told the court that while the ‘optimal’ outcome of such procedures is to ‘clear the tumour in its entirety,’ he did not remove a ‘small remnant’ because if he had, Fran would have had an elevated risk of a stroke, due to its proximity to some of her brain’s nerve structures.

Commenting on how the surgery went, Mr Carroll told the court: “I was pleased with how it went and I was comfortable with what I’d done...I went to see Fran in the recovery room and we had a conversation.”

Similarly, Dr David Turnbull, the Consultant Anaesthetist involved with Fran’s surgery, said he believed the surgery had gone well and had been content that her blood pressure and and heart rate had been ‘stable’.

He noted that her ‘heart rate fell’ towards the end of the surgery, but he administered some drugs to help her heart rate to rise, and the ‘problem did not occur again’.

Dr Turnbull said he went to see Fran in the recovery room following the surgery, and she was ‘quite content and she had a drink’.

Both Mr Carroll and Dr Turnbull said they did not have any reason to believe Fran had any signs of infection at the time of her surgery, or that she was not well enough for the procedure to take place.

‘Coughing and choking episode’

Summarising her findings of fact, Assistant Coroner Tanyka Rawden said that at approximately 2am the following morning Fran had a ‘coughing and choking episode’ following drinking, after which time she was found to have a high respiratory rate and rapid heart rate and began to rapidly deteriorate.

Consultant in Anaesthesia and Intensive Care, Dr Andrew Cruikshanks, was involved in Fran’s care in the final hours of her life, and described how medics attempted to save Fran’s life in variety of ways such as putting her on a ventilator to help with her loss of oxygen, administering adrenaline, putting her on emergency dialysis to remove some of the acid from her blood and administering five electric shocks to her heart.

Dr Cruikshanks said Fran’s organs were ‘shutting down’ during her final hours, and ultimately, they were unable to save her.

Her post-mortem determined Fran’s primary cause of death as Acute Respiratory Distress syndrome (ARDS), which is a life-threatening lung injury that allows fluid to leak into the lungs, and septic shock. Fran’s tumour was found to be her secondary cause of death.

Dr Cruikshanks told the court that ARDS is usually caused by infection, and while he said he believed the ‘most likely’ cause was an infection on her chest, he was unable to determine exactly where it had originated from.

Deterioration was ‘shocking and sudden and clearly unexpected’

He described Fran’s rapid deterioration as ‘extremely unusual,’ both in terms of its ‘speed and severity,’ and was unlike anything he, or his colleagues, had seen before.

Ms Rawden added: “This was shocking and sudden and clearly unexpected.”

Neither the post-mortem or any subsequent reviews of Fran’s death that have been held by Sheffield Teaching Hospitals, have been able to determine where the infection, which led to the ARDS or septic shock, came from.

Ms Rawden delivered a conclusion which stated that Fran had died from natural causes.

“The care and treatment given [to Fran] was timely and appropriate and her death could not have been prevented,” Ms Rawden said.

She added that why Fran died, and where the infection came from, ‘remains unclear'.

Ms Rawden noted that the doctors who gave evidence had clearly been affected by Fran’s death, and the impact upon them was ‘palpable’.

Tributes paid to community-minded, conscientious and ‘beautiful’ Fran who had ‘a promising career ahead of her’

During the course of the inquest, Fran’s family described her as a community-minded person, who was ‘just there’ for those around her, and went shopping for vulnerable people during the Covid-19 pandemic.

They said it was a ‘privilege to have had her’ in their lives.

After being shown pictures of Fran, Ms Rawden described her as someone who was ‘beautiful’ and ‘full of life’.

Fran studied law at Sheffield Hallam University between 2014 and 2017 before completing her Legal Practice Course at the University of Law in Leeds in 2018.

She began working for Rotherham Council in 2018, before being awarded a training contract in May 2019.

A tribute to Fran on the Law Society’s website said she was an ‘intelligent young woman with a natural ability in the law’ who was going to be ‘an excellent solicitor and had a promising career ahead of her’.

The tribute continues: “Fran was a much-loved member of the legal team who was conscientious and enthusiastic. Fran was always a positive person who brightened up the office and, more recently, brightened up a video call.”

“Nothing was ever too much trouble for Fran and she has left a significant gap in our team both as a colleague and as a friend. This tragic news has been a shock to the local legal community.”