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Mother of tonsil surgery boy asks: Why did he die?

May 4, 2002 The Times (London) by Nigel Hawkes
Crawford Roney was a normal healthy toddler when he went into hospital for a tonsil and adenoids operation last June. But within days he was dead.

His surgeons had used disposable instruments -as required by the Department of Health to prevent the spread of vCJD -that have since been linked with increased haemorrhaging after routing surgery. Now they have been withdrawn as a health risk, the Government's chief vCJD adviser says traditional instruments are fine, and Crawford's mother wants a public inquiry. Margaret Roney said yesterday: "I'm 43, and he was our only child. We were never advised there was any risk. We are not vengeful, just overwhelmed that our child could die. We are not blaming the surgeon. Our motive right now is that we are so concerned and angry that somebody made the decision that ended our child's life. We want a public inquiry to find out what happened, and why."

Crawford, who was two, was discharged from the private Alexandra Hospital in Cheadle, Cheshire, the day after his half-hour operation, but he soon felt unwell. His parents gave him Calpol on doctors' advice and he seemed to recover, but a few days later his father found him dead in bed.

An inquest in Macclesfield two weeks ago found that he had died from inhalation of blood after a haemorrhage and the coroner recorded that he had died from "an adverse reaction to necessary medical treatment".

The Alexandra hospital was not obliged to report Crawford's death at the time, so no alarm bells rang about the instruments. Then in November 33-year-old Elaine Basham died after a similar operation.

Miss Basham suffered from Down's syndrome, but she had overcome her disability to become a successful competitive swimmer and no problems were expected when she went into North Riding Infirmary on November 5.

But doctors taking out her tonsils were unable to stop her bleeding and she suffered cardiac arrests and brain damage. She died ten days later and an inquest is to be held.

Her father Brian, 66, from Loftus, East Cleveland, said last night: "We're gutted. If we had known about the instruments being wrong, we would never have allowed the operation to go ahead. They should have stopped using these instruments much sooner."

Miss Basham's death, coupled with 18 other reports of post-operative bleeding, prompted the Health Department to instruct doctors in England to return to the traditional equipment. But officials still do not know how many other patients may have suffered and the throwaway instruments are still being used in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Crawford's father believes that the number of haemorrhages reported after the new instruments were introduced is "too much of a coincidence" to be bad luck. "What astonishes us is that we cannot find out how many patients had a bad outcome, and how many died," Peter Roney said.

"What preparations were made to make sure the instruments were safe? How many adverse incidents were there? And how many died? Some surgeons have said to us that there were serious problems of quality with the instruments. But, if so, was it across the board?"

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