‘Misadventure’ woman dies of heart attack

Posted on 7th May 2013

The following transcription is from an article in Weybridge Herald & News newspaper dated Friday 29th November 1974, with the headline “‘Misadventure’ woman dies of heart attack”. I was given a copy by my aunt, as it describes the circumstances of my grandmother’s death.

A 56-YEAR-OLD woman who died from a heart attack while being given general anaesthetic for an operation at Walton hospital had warned her doctors that she suffered from chronic bronchitis and had experienced difficulties when she underwent a similar operation 19 years previously.

Counsel for the dead woman’s family, Mr. Purchas, suggested that it might have been better to postpone the operation, the Surrey coroner, Lt. Col. George McEwan, was told when he resumed the inquest on Mrs. Bridgitt McMahon, of Cedar Road, Weybridge. A verdict of misadventure was recorded.

Mrs. McMahon died at the hospital on October 28 whilst being given a general anaesthetic prior to an abdominal operation.

Earlier there had been a sharp clash between Mr. Purchas and Mr. James Watt, appearing for Dr. Eileen Gibson, of Byfleet Road, Cobham, the consultant anaesthetist, as to whether Mrs. McMahon was fit to undergo the operation.

Mrs. Cecilia Hansford, of Cedar Road, Weybridge, said her mother underwent successful surgery 19 years previously for abdominal condition. Later the condition returned and she was advised to undergo another operation.

Her mother was admitted to Walton hospital on October 21. In her opinion her mother had been fit except for her chronic chest condition.

When Mrs. McMahon entered the hospital on October 27 she asked for a second opinion regarding her chest complaint. She told her daughter later that day the operation might have to be postponed.

Dr. Eric Gibson said Mrs. McMahon suffered from chronic bronchitis. When he examined her on October 22 she expressed anxiety about the anaesthetic. “I put her on a course of antibiotics as an ‘umbrella’ precaution six days prior to the operation,” said Dr Gibson.

The pre-medical treatment in his opinion was a precautionary measure in case Mrs. McMahon’s chest condition had got worse after the operation, as she was a heavy smoker.

Dr. Gibson said Mrs. McMahon was fit to undergo surgery. If her condition had got worse the operation would not have taken place.

Dr. Eileen Gibson said she examined Mrs. McMahon before the operating staff began their list of operations the day Mrs. McMahon died.

“If I had not been satisfied that she could undergo surgery I would have not permitted the operation. There were signs of chronic bronchitis,” said Dr. Gibson.

Dr Gibson said Mrs. McMahon had been given an injection to relax her throat muscles prior to the general anaesthetic – which included passing a tube down the throat.

“Mrs. McMahon’s colour became bad, so I gave her oxygen at the same time calling on the surgeon, Mr. Baynes, to help,” said the doctor.

Asked by the coroner if there had been any evidence of a cardiac condition, Dr. Gibson replied, “No.”.

Dr. Trevor Baynes, consultant gynaecologist, said he had advised Mrs. McMahon to have the second operation for her abdominal condition. He knew she suffered from a chest condition and he described Dr. Eileen Gibson as the most experienced anaesthetist who had worked with him over many years.

Cross examined by Mr. Purchas, he said after Mrs. McMahon died he surmised she succumbed to a cardiac arrest.

“I think she underwent a nervous reflex as the tube was being passed down her throat and this stopped her heart,” he added.

Prof. Keith Mant, pathologist, said his post portem confirmed Mrs. McMahon’s chronic bronchial condition, but there was slight of evidence of an infection of the respiratory tract. Mrs. McMahon’s blood was normal and there was no evidence of any disease.

Prof. Mant said he had known cases similar to that of Mrs. McMahon, “but they are very rare indeed. It just happens out of the blue – and there is no way of stopping it,” Prof. Mant said.

Recording a verdict of misadventure the coroner said he was satisfied all reasonable precautions had been taken by the doctors.

This incident sadly meant that I never got to meet my grandmother.