Littlehampton woman dies from 'catastrophic' bleed two days after throat surgery

Gloria Baker, 77, died two days after having throat surgery
Gloria Baker, 77, died two days after having throat surgery

A Littlehampton woman died from a 'catastrophic' bleed two days after having surgery on her throat, an inquest heard.

Gloria Baker, 77, from Ensign Way, Littlehampton, opted to have an operation at Worthing Hospital after complaining of swelling in her neck and shortness of breath, an inquest at Crawley Coroners' Court heard.

The procedure on Thursday, March 15, went to plan, with the pensioner telling relatives afterwards she had 'never felt better'.

But late on Saturday evening, she called 999 reporting shortness of breath, and went quiet on the phone.

An ambulance arrived at her home 15 minutes later, but got no answer from her door, so the police were called to gain entry. The paramedics found her unresponsive in her armchair, with the television still on and the phone still in her hands, the inquest heard.

She was pronounced dead at 12.12am on Sunday, March 18.

A post-mortem found that Mrs Baker died of acute respiratory failure and upper airway obstruction caused by a haemorrhage in her neck following the surgery.

At the inquest on Wednesday, coroner Penelope Schofield concluded that Mrs Baker 'died from a recognised, albeit rare, complication of an elective medical procedure' and found there was no wrongdoing by the medical team at Worthing Hospital.

She said to Mrs Baker's relatives: "It would have been a catastrophic event that would have rendered her unconscious very quickly. I hope that is some comfort to you."

She said: "When somebody dies after being in our care, it affects everyone very deeply, and we want to do the best for our patients. I can only offer my condolences; I think everyone's been very deeply affected by Gloria's death."

Mrs Baker's operation was carried out by head and neck surgeon Andrew Moore. He said the operation went to plan but he still decided to keep her in hospital overnight with a drainage tube, as most bleeds happened between six and 12 hours after the procedure.

Mr Moore said that despite carrying out this operation 40 to 60 times a year, it was the only case he had encountered of a bleed 48 hours after the operation.

He said: "Even if she had been in hospital, it was so sudden and catastrophic that there would have been nothing we could have done."

His colleague Elon Williams saw Mrs Baker the morning after her operation, and discharged her after giving her advice about what to do if she had any symptoms.

While Mrs Baker followed this advice by calling 999, Kim Cheetham, interim head of nursing at Worthing Hospital, said an advice leaflet had been made in the wake of Gloria's death which would be handed out to all patients after this type of operation.

She said: "When somebody dies after being in our care, it affects everyone very deeply, and we want to do the best for our patients. I can only offer my condolences; I think everyone's been very deeply affected by Gloria's death."

Family's tribute to 'very generous' Gloria

Speaking to the paper, Mrs Baker's sister Josephine Williams, 66, from Sevenoaks, Kent, said that despite their 12-year age gap they were like 'twins': "She was a giver. If you said to her that you were short of cash or didn't have anything to eat, she would give it to you. She was very generous."

They would call each other two or three times a day. She said: "That is the worst thing I miss now - knowing that every day, she isn't at the end of the phone."

She described her sister's death as 'devastating', but praised coroner's officer Sally Hall for her support in the inquest process and Dr Moore for being 'exceptionally nice'.

"We understand now that even though we would have liked her to have stayed in hospital longer, they would never have saved her," she said.

According to Josephine, Mrs Baker was born in Brighton and moved around the country to Cornwall and Wales with her husband Gordon Baker, who introduced her to deep-sea fishing, a lifelong passion of hers, before they settled in Littlehampton. He sadly passed away several years ago, and in recent years Gloria enjoyed playing bingo.

During the inquest, a statement was also read out by Thomas Sivyer, her son, who was with her at the time of the operation. He said he 'missed his mum dearly', and 'felt lucky to have known her', having only met her 19 years ago. "I feel proud to be her son", he said.