Pensioner 'heartbroken' over reason for husband's death


Romilly Scragg

AN ELDERLY lady is devastated after learning her husband died not from cancer as she believed but from pneumonia that was never diagnosed.

Thomas (Tommy) Ellis Brown, 80, from Buckley died after being given end-of-life treatment following a diagnosis for cancer.

But a post-mortem examination ordered because of Mr Brown’s association with asbestos earlier in his life found death was caused by pneumonia and there was no evidence of cancer.

An inquest concluded yesterday that the former joiner had died of natural causes.

But speaking following the inquest, widow Joan and children Sue Gregory and Neil Brown have vowed to fight to stop the same thing happening to others.

Mrs Brown, 80, who was married to her husband for 56 years, said it had been “terrible” to discover her husband had died from pneumonia and he received no treatment for the complaint.

“When we thought it was cancer I was relieved it was going to end because he was in so much pain,” said Mrs Brown, “but then to be told it was pneumonia, and he could have been treated like he had been lots of times before, it’s really heartbreaking.

“You think, should we have done something? Should we have pushed for a biopsy?

“How can it happen? Clatterbridge is a centre of excellence. How many people were in that multi-disciplinary team looking after him – and they’ve all got it wrong.

“There should be something in place to stop this from happening.”

Mrs Brown added: “This has made me doubt everything. How many more people are out there who have gone to the crematorium with the same sort of diagnosis?

Daughter Sue Gregory, a former nurse of 30 years who left the profession following her father’s death, said: “If it hadn’t been for the post-mortem we’d never have known. It’s just been a quirk of fate we found out and it’s devastating.

“We just want people to know what’s going on. That’s the only thing we can do now. We’ve got to stop it.”

The family said they had been advised in advance of the inquest that coroner John Gittins would not be able to apportion blame in the case of Mr Brown’ death.

But Mrs Gregory, who said the family will be seeking legal advice, said she was grateful Mr Gittins had pushed the pathologist to try to explain how the cancer diagnosis could have been made.

“The pathologist went out of her way to find evidence [to support the cancer diagnosis] and she didn’t find anything.”

Mrs Gregory said: “Dad had a wicked sense of humour and he was tip-top in terms of quality of life.

“Nothing is going to change what’s happened but if we can stop just one person from going through this and having the wrong treatment, we’ve at least achieved something.”

Son Neil Brown said: “At the end of the day, dad isn’t here to stand up for himself so we need to fight for the thousands of others who may be in the same situation.

“If it wasn’t for dad working with asbestos, we’d never have found out.”


A PENSIONER treated for cancer was ordered to remain immobile in bed or risk being paralysed from the neck down.

But when a post-mortem examination was carried out on retired joiner Thomas Brown, of Grosvenor Drive, Buckley, there was no sign of the tumours believed to have been threatening his spinal cord.

At an inquest in Ruthin yesterday consultant pathologist Dr Pauline Dowling said in the light of the earlier diagnosis she was shocked to discover no malignancy, although there was some evidence of exposure to asbestos.

But she said such discrepancies did sometimes arise and clinicians and radiologists did sometimes diagnose cancer without tissue evidence.

Mr Brown died at home on August 21, 2012, having been sent home from the Countess of Chester Hospital for palliative care. Dr Dowling gave the cause of death as bronchial pneumonia.

The inquest was told the 80-year-old had been a heavy smoker and had suffered back and chest problems for a considerable time. Over the previous two years he had been admitted to hospital several times.

He went into the Countess of Chester Hospital on July 11 with a cough and chest pains and a CT scan revealed possible lung cancer affecting the spinal cord. That was confirmed by a full MRI scan and so he was transferred to Clatterbridge Hospital where he underwent radiotherapy.

He then returned to Chester before being discharged home.

Dr Alison Hall, consultant oncologist at Clatterbridge, told the inquest she examined the same images and agreed they showed tumours near Mr Brown’s neck which were close to his spinal cord.

“If we had done nothing there was a strong chance of his being paralysed from the neck down,” she said.

Questioned by John Gittins, the coroner for North Wales East and Central, Dr Hall said ideally they would always try to examine tissue, but added: “It was not a diagnosis by one person but a collective process.”

She said she was surprised to hear of Dr Dowling’s findings but added: “The risk of not giving radiotherapy outweighed the risks of doing so. It would have continued to grow and risked paralysing him.”

A post-mortem examination was originally called for simply because Mr Brown may have been exposed to asbestos through his work.

Recording a conclusion of death by natural causes, the coroner said the best possible evidence was from the post-mortem examination.

“It is a very unusual situation and not one I can recall coming across in my time as a coroner,” he said.

“The reality of the situation is that doctors exercise their medical judgment in difficult circumstances,” he added.

See full story in the Leader

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