A Dublin woman suffered irreversible brain damage after choking on a croissant in her home 16 months ago, an inquest has heard.
Maria FitzGerald (70) of Cormac Terrace, Terenure died in St James’s Hospital in Dublin on October 29th, 2021 as a result of injuries sustained from a lack of oxygen to the brain five days after experiencing a choking incident while having dinner at home with her sister.
The inquest heard that Ms Fitzgerald, who was known as “Ria” to her family and friends, had been placed on a ventilator in the hospital due to the nature of her injuries.
The coroner, Aisling Gannon, was informed that the deceased had previously had a cancerous tumour in her neck but was back eating normally and had regained her usual weight.
Postmortem results disclosed at a sitting of Dublin District Coroner’s Court on Monday confirmed that there were no new or recurrent tumours which could have been a factor in the fatal choking incident.
The deceased’s sister, Jean FitzGerald, told the inquest that they were having dinner as usual on the evening of October 24th, 2010.
She recalled that her sister was “in good form” with both women having a croissant at the end of the meal “as a treat.”
She claimed her sister suddenly seemed stressed and went into the bathroom holding her neck “as if there was something stuck”.
Ms FitzGerald said her sister came back into the kitchen and shook her head when it was suggested an ambulance should be called before she swayed on her feet and fell to the ground.
The witness said she rang the emergency services and rushed out to a neighbour’s house but there was nobody home.
She said paramedics were at the house by the time she got back and her sister was treated at the scene before being brought to St James’s Hospital.
Ms FitzGerald told the coroner that her sister had issues in the past with her throat but had completed her treatment for a cancerous tumour in 2018.
She said she was “just guessing” that Ria had to be careful about what she could and could not eat and might have had some difficulty swallowing before her death but believed she might have “suffered from anxiety” at the time of the choking incident.
Ms Gannon said postmortem results had shown Ms FitzGerald had no new or recurrent tumours but there was scarring of her oesophagus.
However, the coroner said that while the scarring could affect a person’s sensation of swallowing certain food types, it would have had no effect on the physical or mechanical act of swallowing by Ms FitzGerald.
Ms Gannon said medical records from St James’s Hospital showed doctors were concerned about the lack of oxygen to the patient’s brain as a result of the choking incident and a decision was ultimately taken to switch off her life-support machine.
The records also showed Ms FitzGerald had suffered a cardiac arrest while pieces of a croissant were retrieved from the patient by both paramedics and hospital staff.
Offering her condolences to the deceased’s sister for what she observed was “a distressing experience”, the coroner returned a verdict of accidental death.