94-year-old Helston woman died after rare drug reaction

A 94-year-old Helston woman who visited her GP with a chest infection became jaundiced and died after a rare reaction to an antibiotic, an inquest heard.

Amy Alexa Hatton died from acute liver failure on August 8 last year.

The former teacher and wife of retired RAF officer John Fisher Hatton first went to see her GP with a chest infection at the start of July and up until that point she “had not been a regular attendee,” Dr James Tait from Helston Medical Centre said.

In a bid to ward off the possible onset of pneumonia Dr Tait prescribed the antibiotic Clarithromycin, which has the known “but very, very rare” side effect of causing jaundice in some patients by forming toxins that damage liver cells.

Just days later Mrs Hatton became deeply jaundiced, with yellowing of her skin and the whites of her eyes, and was admitted to the Royal Cornwall Hospital at Treliske on July 5.

She failed to respond to treatment and was released from hospital on July 19 so that she could die at her home in Tenderah Road.

Her daughter, Aldyth Nys, told the inquest that the family “didn’t know she had been released from Treliske Hospital as a terminal case.”

“It was really quite a surprise to us when they said she’s coming home – it was only then that we discovered that she was not eating and drinking,” she said.

Mrs Hatton “had never had antibiotics,” her daughter said, “because before February last year she had not been to see her doctors – she didn’t even know her doctor.

“Nobody could have known if she was sensitive to antibiotics.”

Dr Tait, who has been a GP for ten years, said that before Mrs Hatton he had never seen such a severe reaction to Clarithromycin. Since that time he has seen one additional bad reaction, he said.

He still prescribes the drug, but said that he will often look to alternative antibiotics first as “the way in which you practice medicine is coloured by the events you have experienced.”

Deputy coroner Andrew Cox gave Mrs Hatton’s cause of death as an adverse drug reaction (clinical) aggravated by underlying chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“What we have here is a drug that has been administered for a particular purpose, but unintentionally the administration of that drug has caused an unexpected outcome,” he said.

He recorded a verdict of misadventure.

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