Belfast Telegraph

She had everything to live for, but nurse killed herself weeks after the man she was about to marry ended their romance

BY ADRIAN RUTHERFORD

She was a young woman who had everything to live for – but Aoife Ni Uallachain's life ended in desperate tragedy when she faced losing the man she loved.

The 30-year-old midwife was described as beautiful, intelligent and full of fun. But behind the smiling, striking personality so vividly remembered by friends lay a secret heartache.

Aoife died in the intensive care unit of Craigavon Area Hospital on February 11, 2010 – four days after attempting suicide at the hospital's mental health unit.

Yesterday an inquest heard how she battled depression and anxiety in the months before her untimely passing.

It also heard how, in the weeks before her death, Aoife was worried about losing two of the people she cared about most.

Her mother Breda was diagnosed with cancer while her boyfriend Darren – the man she adored and was about to marry – had ended their relationship.

Her inquest in Armagh heard how she took the break-up particularly badly, telling friends she had lost everything.

The night before she took her life, Aoife made eight phone calls to Darren in a 78-minute period.

In one of the calls, he reportedly told her the relationship was over for good.

Originally from Dundalk in Co Louth, Aoife had been living in England and was working as a midwife at Basildon University Hospital in Essex.

Life was good. It seemed she had everything to live for. But her mother's cancer diagnosis, followed by the break-up, cruelly shattered Aoife's happiness.

A letter from Anoushka Luthra, a doctor based in Essex, detailed how she first complained of feeling low in September 2009. The following month she complained of stress and anxiety, and was admitted to hospital for a short time.

A childhood friend, Maria Johnston, wept as she recalled how the bubbly, beautiful woman she once knew became tortured by anxiety and loneliness.

"She was stunning looking, a beautiful girl. She never saw it in herself, unfortunately," she said.

Maria had visited Aoife at her family home on February 5. She recalled Aoife telling her: "I'm obsessed with Darren. I know I am. I just need someone to help me out with this."

Aoife showed her photographs of Darren, her mother and one of herself, dressed glamorously and wearing make-up. She told Maria: "I'll never look like that again."

According to Maria, the end of the relationship with Darren hit Aoife particularly hard. "She loved her fiancé very much – it was a serious relationship," she added.

A week before she passed away, Aoife had been admitted voluntarily to Bluestone mental health unit at Craigavon hospital.

Maria recalled a final, frantic call when Aoife begged her to come and take her home.

Asked by senior coroner John Leckey if the extent of Aoife's depression came as a complete shock, she replied: "Not until the night before (her death) when I got that phone call.

"I had a gut feeling that there was something not right and I did become concerned then."

Asked by Mr Leckey if Aoife had low esteem, she replied: "She had no esteem."

Aoife was under observation every 15 minutes at the mental health unit. Shortly after 9.45am on February 7, 2010, a nurse on routine patrol found her slumped with a ligature around her neck. She was taken to intensive care at Craigavon Hospital but was pronounced dead four days later on February 11.

State Pathologist Professor Jack Crane said her death was caused by pneumonia due to anoxic brain injury as a result of hanging.

The opening day of the inquest, which is due to last three days, heard of concerns about the quality of care Aoife received from staff at the mental health unit.

In particular, attention was focused on a phone call made by Maria warning staff about Aoife's mental state the night before her suicide. Maria said Aoife told her: "None of the nurses will speak to me. They don't bother."

Maria recalled how, during her call, a nurse seemed "sarcastic" and said she was made to feel like "a nuisance" and "wasting time".

The nurse believed to have answered the call denied this, stating she knew "in her heart of hearts" that callers were always dealt with in a respectful way.

Mr Leckey and a barrister acting on behalf of the Southern Health and Social Care Trust also suggested the nurse's comments may have been misinterpreted.

Concerns were also raised about the response of staff when Aoife's body was found. These are to be explored over the next two days.

Sister Wendy Kelly, the ward manager, broke down in tears as she told the inquest everything was done to try and save Aoife's life. "I've been a nurse for over 30 years and this is the first time it's ever happened on my ward. It was very upsetting and we tried very hard to resuscitate Aoife," she said.

The inquest continues.

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