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Typhlitis: Crossgar man told his wife died from illness so rare most doctors had not heard of it

After 14-year inquest wait, widower gets truth over death of loved one

By Allan Preston

Published 20/10/2016

Robert Spratt talks with surgeon Sigi Refsum yesterday as he leaves the inquest into the death of his wife Joyce
Robert Spratt talks with surgeon Sigi Refsum yesterday as he leaves the inquest into the death of his wife Joyce
Joyce Spratt

A husband who has waited 14 years to hear the truth about his wife's death has been told that she died of a condition so uncommon the majority of her doctors had never heard of it.

Joyce Spratt, a mother of three from Crossgar, was 53 when she died in Belfast City Hospital on Friday March 22, 2002.

The coroner Joe McCrisken told an inquest yesterday that she died of typhlitis, an uncommon condition that causes inflammation of the bowel.

She had been undergoing chemotherapy treatment before her death and was also one of 128 women in the UK who signed up to an experimental drug trial.

However, Mr McCrisken said the drug trial was not to blame and that her chemotherapy caused the typhlitis.

Robert Spratt, her widower, told the court Joyce was a devoted mother who loved indoor bowls and acted as an official umpire all over Ireland.

"She was very brave," said Mr Spratt, recalling when his wife was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

"The doctor said to her 'I suppose you're asking, why me?' She just said, 'Why not me?'"

The family have long questioned if a delay in admitting Joyce to hospital that week contributed to her death, which is yet to be established.

On March 19 she attended an appointment in the cancer unit at Belfast City Hospital.

Her oncologist Dr Paula Scullin told the court she did not think at the time that Mrs Spratt's symptoms were serious enough to admit her.

She acknowledged she should have checked her temperature as part of her tests, but had no way of knowing she would develop the very rare typhlitis in days.

On March 20 Mrs Spratt called an emergency hospital line for cancer patients complaining of abdominal pains. She was told to go to her GP, who then directed her to the Downe Hospital.

She was diagnosed with appendicitis and eventually taken to Belfast City Hospital shortly after midnight.

Consultant surgeon Sigi Refsum began treating Mrs Spratt after 3am, but her condition deteriorated substantially.

"Mrs Spratt was too sick to go near an operating theatre," Dr Refsum told the court.

"There were so many indices at the time Mrs Spratt presented to the City Hospital that were difficult to overcome. Particularly the background of someone who had chemotherapy. The die was cast and the outcome was not looking good, quite simply."

The surgical team had been operating on a working diagnosis of appendicitis.

A post-mortem showed this to be typhlitis, which has similar symptoms.

Dr Refsum said that even though she had never heard of the condition at the time, she would still have administered the same treatment.

A barrister for the Belfast Health Trust apologised to Mr Spratt, saying his wife should have been immediately brought in to see the specialist in the oncology department rather than sent to her GP.

He added that typhlitis had been "exhaustively examined" since 2002 and the Belfast Trust had made "very significant" changes in managing cancer patients. The inquest continues.

Belfast Telegraph

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