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'My husband went to A&E with a sore mouth after tooth removal... and died hours later'

By Lisa Smyth

Published 28/01/2016

A family picture of Robert Garrett Thompson
A family picture of Robert Garrett Thompson
Robert Garrett Thompson's widow Sylvia

A grieving widow has told how her husband went to A&E with a sore mouth after having a tooth removed - but died hours later after taking an everyday antibiotic.

An inquest into the death of 49-year-old Robert Garrett Thompson found the healthy father-of-two died as a result of an allergic reaction triggered by an intravenous dose of the antibiotic Co-amoxiclav.

His devastated wife Sylvia only found out about the tragedy when she arrived at the hospital hours later with an overnight bag.

Speaking after yesterday’s hearing in Ballymena, Mrs Thompson told the Belfast Telegraph: “I just want people to be aware that things like this can happen.

“Robert had had that particular antibiotic twice before and it hadn’t caused any problems.”

Mr Thompson developed an infection in his mouth after having a tooth removed.

The pain became too much to bear and he drove himself to Antrim Area Hospital in the early hours of July 20, 2014.

“I didn’t know he was going to hospital — I just heard the car going out and assumed that’s where he was going as he was in so much pain,” said 48-year-old Mrs Thompson.

“It was just like Robert not to say anything, just to take himself off.

“I got up the next morning and he wasn’t there, so I sent him a text message and he texted back to say he was in A&E.

“We were supposed to be taking the girls to a horse show in Omagh and he said for us to go on and he would catch up with us.”

However, within hours Mr Thompson, from Parkfield Road in Ahoghill, Co Antrim, was dead.

“I got a phonecall from my parents because the police had gone to them looking for me and saying Robert wasn’t very well,” explained Mrs Thompson.

“I was in Omagh, so I rang the hospital and spoke to one of the doctors, who said Robert had had a bad reaction and asked me to come down.

“I left the girls and the pony with a friend and I came back down.

“I stopped off at home and got an overnight bag for Robert, and then my mum and dad took me on up to the hospital. I had no idea what had happened.

“When we got there they took us into a wee side room and told us. I couldn’t believe it, I just didn’t know what to think — it wasn’t real.”

Mrs Thompson said she and her two daughters Hannah (15) and Rachael (21) have struggled to come to terms with their sudden and traumatic loss.

“The girls were Robert’s world,” she said. “They’re coping in their own way.

“I didn’t tell them about the inquest because I didn’t want to upset them, especially as Hannah has exams.

“I don’t blame anyone for what happened to Robert. They seem to have done everything they could for him. I just wanted answers and closure.

“I’ve spent a lot of time on the internet looking up information on anaphylaxis and Co-amoxiclav, and it looks like a very rare condition.

“Co-amoxiclav is a very common drug. Robert had it twice before in the tablet form after operations. It just looks like the intravenous form was the problem.

“Robert was always on the go. Even when he was having bother with his mouth, that didn’t hold him back.

“We were over in Scotland the week before and then, well, look what happened.”

Yesterday’s inquest was told Mr Thompson, a railway engineer, arrived at A&E at about 3.40am complaining of pain in the right side of his jaw and said that he was unable to close his mouth properly.

Doctors in the A&E diagnosed parotitis — an infection of part of the salivary glands — and prescribed a course of antibiotic tablets to take at home.

But they decided to boost the treatment by first administering a dose of the drug intravenously at 7.45am.

Immediately Mr Thompson became flushed, his breathing became laboured and he suffered a cardiac arrest.

Medics were able to restart his heart, but he went back into cardiac arrest at 8.35am and was pronounced dead at 8.48am.

Dr Ryan Smyth, one of the doctors who cared for Mr Thompson, told yesterday’s hearing the chance of such an extreme reaction were “one in a million”.

The emergency medicine doctor was asked whether he had ever seen anything like the allergic reaction suffered by Mr Thompson.

He replied: “My own experience is that this is the single most severe case of anaphylaxis I have ever seen.

“I have discussed it with other colleagues of mine, and one colleague who has been working over 35 years says he has never seen such a severe reaction.

“I would say the chances of this happening are one in a million.”

Delivering his findings, coroner James Henry Rodgers ruled Mr Thompson died as a result of anaphylaxis after he was given an intravenous dose of Co-amoxiclav.

He said State Pathologist Dr Peter Ingram had told him an allergic reaction was a well-recognised complication when being treated by antibiotic.

He continued: “He says most reactions are mild to moderate and some, like in Mr Thompson’s case, can be severe, ultimately proving fatal.

“Nevertheless, nothing prepares the family to come to terms with such a tragic and untimely event.”

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