Inquest: Falmouth Gallery director Brian Stewart died during surgery
A rare and unexpected complication during a routine hip surgery took the life of one of Falmouth’s most famous faces, an inquest heard last week.
Former Falmouth Art Gallery director, Brian Stewart, fractured his hip after a fall from his bike on icy roads on December 6, 2010.
The 57-year-old had suffered from arthritis from a very young age and had undergone a number of hip replacements, the first when he was just 25.
The inquest, held in Truro last Thursday, was told by Brian’s GP, Dr Dene Georgelin from Westover Surgery, that: “There was nothing in his recent medical history that could have predicted the ensuing events.”
Brian lived in Grove Hill Drive with his wife Carole, who said that he would cycle on an electric bike so that he could rest his hips in between peddling.
“It helped without him having to struggle too much. In fact he probably exercised more than the regular person,” she said.
Following the fall, however, Brian was struggling noticeably and was taken to Falmouth Hospital by his friend John Dyer, where the fracture was confirmed.
Royal Cornwall Hospital consultant orthopaedic surgeon Mark Norton first saw Brian on December 9.
He said: “There had been a lack of decision making up to that point in time with Brian’s case, and I felt that I had to take some responsibility on behalf of the team.
“It was clear from the X-Rays that the [hip] socket was completely loose, and not only loose it was corroding the bone of his pelvis away.”
At Brian’s request, the junior team in charge of his care had been waiting on a reply from a surgeon who knew his case, the inquest heard.
But when no such reply was forthcoming it was agreed to go ahead with the surgery on December 12.
During the operation to replace the hip, Mr Norton said he found a large amount of unusual fluid in the socket. “The nature of the fluid was different from normal,” he said.
“It is usually clear and straw-coloured, viscous like motor oil.
“But in this case the fluid was very much more granular and there were almost strands in it, like soup.”
Deputy coroner Andrew Cox found that it was this granular, “amorphous” material that was subsequently released into Brian’s bloodstream, which caused an embolic reaction leading to his death.
Consultant anaesthetist Dr James Powell told the inquest: “I didn’t have any warning that the little arteries of Brian’s heart were gradually filling up with this amorphous material.
“At approximately 2.35 in the afternoon Brian took a rapid turn for the worse. There were actually very few warnings.
“I noticed that his breathing had changed and that he had become pale. He was struggling to breathe; he became very pale and very rapidly after that he stopped breathing.”
Resuscitation was unsuccessful and a post-mortem examination later found this unidentified material spread throughout Brian’s vital organs.
Consultant pathologist Christina McCormick, who gave the cause of death as systemic intravascular embolism contributable to a right hip fracture, said the material found within Brian’s blood vessels was very difficult to characterise and was unlike anything she had ever seen before.
She said: “Some of the material was of a natural bodily substance but there was other material which despite all my best attempts of trying to determine the nature of it - I couldn’t.
“I couldn’t determine the exact nature of this material. I can only speculate that as there was a sudden cause of death through cardio pulmonary arrest, that there was a sudden loss of blood supply to the actual heart itself.”
Recording a narrative verdict, Mr Cox, said: “Brian Victor Stewart died as a result of a complication of a necessary surgical procedure.”
Speaking after the inquest had ended, Brian’s widow Carole said: “For me, it answered some questions and will allow us to go over the information again to clarify it in our own minds. We appreciate a narrative verdict.”