THE family of a man who walked away from a minor crash but later developed a brain bleed and died have called for routine CT scans for elderly people involved in accidents.
Dublin Coroner’s Court heard that former Dundalk Democrat journalist Michael King (74) of Ardee Road, Dunleer died on January 22 last year having crashed his car just minutes from his home three days previously. He was admitted to A&E at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital where staff had difficulties sourcing his medical records and a brain scan was not carried out until six hours after the incident.
Mr King, a grandfather of nine, had been driving on the Ardee Road when he lost control of his car and crashed into a wall. He was travelling at 15 to 20 miles per hour. His wife Ita went to the scene and he appeared okay apart from some confusion and a cut to his lip. When paramedics arrived Mr King walked to the ambulance.
At the hospital, he was fully conscious but complained of chest pain having hit the steering wheel on impact. He could not remember the accident but told doctors he was not wearing a seatbelt. A chest x-ray revealed no trauma, however, an irregular heart rhythm was subsequently detected. Doctors did not suspect a head injury.
Attempts were made to retrieve Mr King’s medical records but, despite his attendance at the hospital for a check-up a month earlier, they were stored in Dublin and were not available. He had a history of significant heart disease for which he was taking medication including the blood thinner Clavix. Dr Alexis McVey established through the hospital’s cardiac rehab unit that the irregular rhythm was pre-existing. However, he was concerned that a neurological event may have caused the accident and ordered a non-emergency CT scan.
Mrs King told the court that following the earlier chest x-ray, her husband had complained of a headache. There was no note of this in the medical records. When checked by Dr McVey at around 3.45pm, he was stable.
At around 4.30pm, Mr King’s condition began to deteriorate rapidly. An emergency CT scan revealed the subdural haematoma. Mr King was transferred to Beaumont Hospital where neurosurgeons cleared the bleed. However, he never regained consciousness and died two days later.
The post-mortem found that Mr King died as a result of a subdural haematoma consistent with a trauma caused by a car accident. The pathologist noted that this can be caused by even a minor trauma in an elderly person.
The jury returned a verdict of death by misadventure. Coroner Dr Brian Farrell will also write to Our Lady of Lourdes to recommend it review the storage of medical records and to the Irish Neurological Association to recommend reviewing guidelines on CT scans for elderly patients involved in accidents.
Speaking outside the court, Mr King’s daughter Teresa, said that there is room for improvement in the way patients are dealt with at A&E.
“Systems should be either improved or introduced to make available a person’s medical records promptly and easily,” she said.
“This did not happen in our case. Elderly people who go to hospital following a road traffic incident should be the subject of an immediate CT scan as a standard diagnostic tool. The delay in ordering such a scan in the case of my father meant we were unaware for several hours of the seriousness of his condition. We very much hope that lessons can be learned from our tragedy,” she said.
Mr King was a journalist with the Dundalk Democrat. He was one of the first journalists on the scene when paramilitary leader ‘Border Fox’ Dessie O’Hare was arrested in Dunleer following a shooting incident in the town. O’Hare was the target of a massive manhunt at the time having grabbed international headlines after kidnapping a dentist and trying to elicit a £1.5 million ransom by cutting two of his victim’s fingers off.