Anorexic died weighing 3 1/2 stone, inquest told


A WOMAN who became a "professional anorexic" when she was 14 years old died almost 30 years later weighing about 3 1/2 stone, Dublin City Coroner's Court has been told.

Ms Ursula McDonnell (41), of Cypress Park, Templeogue, was admitted to hospital almost every year after 1987 and died at St James's Hospital on November 7th, 1995, due to "pneumonia in a debilitated subject".

The woman's GP, Dr Kevin McPartlin, described how she had been a "professional anorexic" and said that after putting on three stone in hospital in 1988, she deliberately lost them when she was discharged.

Six female jurors yesterday recorded a verdict of death by misadventure after hearing evidence. The jury also made a recommendation that relatives of patients should be kept informed regularly as to their condition during their treatment in hospital.

Mr David McDonnell told the coroner, Dr Brian Farrell, that his daughter had been diagnosed as having anorexia nervosa when she was aged 19, but that she had developed the eating disorder when she was 14.

She was first admitted to hospital in January 1974 after collapsing at a supermarket in Rathfarnham. She was discharged from St Patrick's Hospital on March 31st and over the following 13 years was not admitted to hospital.

Dr McPartlin said Ms McDonnell had been admitted to the Meath Hospital in a coma in 1991 weighing just 3 1/2 stone. By 1992 her weight had risen to five stone, but by April 1995, when she was again taken to hospital in a coma she again weighed 3 1/2 stone.

Mr McDonnell described how his daughter could hardly walk after she was discharged on this occasion and said he was furious that she had been sent home. However, the hospital told him she was "medically fit".

On November 6th, 1995, her mother found her in bed in a comatose state, and her GP was called. Mr McDonnell said he told Dr McPartlin he believed that she was suffering from pneumonia as she had a cold.

According to Mr McDonnell, Dr McPartlin had not examined her fully, because she was "wearing too many clothes" and did not seem to place any urgency on her condition. After ringing for an ambulance, he returned to his nearby surgery where he was seeing patients. He left a note for the hospital saying that the woman might have pneumonia.

On her arrival at St James's Hospital, Mr McDonnell said, a nurse had difficulty getting an intravenous tube into her arm. He was then informed that she would be taken to the operating theatre to have a line put into her neck.

"At no stage were we told our daughter was in any danger of dying," Mr McDonnell said.

Some time later a doctor informed Mr McDonnell and his wife that their daughter was seriously ill. Her kidneys had failed, but the doctor said this could be rectified, he recalled.

Prof John Feeley, a consultant physician at St James's Hospital, said he presumed the cause of death to have been severe anorexia nervosa with profound hypoglycaemia (deficiency of sugar in the blood). She was also hypothermic.

He apologised to the woman's family that they had not been informed of the seriousness of her condition by hospital staff.