Lynley Bilby

Lynley Bilby is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Drugs from misdiagnosis concealed real cause of ill health

Medicine given to young man masked symptoms of meningococcal disease

Kellc MacKenzie will always wonder if her boyfriend Ben Brown could have been saved. Photo / Rhys Palmer
Kellc MacKenzie will always wonder if her boyfriend Ben Brown could have been saved. Photo / Rhys Palmer

Kellc MacKenzie will always wonder: "What would have happened if Ben actually got diagnosed straight away?"

Ben Brown died of meningitis.
Ben Brown died of meningitis.

The tearful woman responded yesterday to findings into her boyfriend's death - which found poor advice led to her continuing to give him medicine which concealed the real cause of what was killing him.

A coroner has ordered an advice pamphlet about meningitis be rewritten after the young man was misdiagnosed, treated wrongly for days and died.

The findings from Coroner Brandt Shortland, released this week, found the official leaflet failed to warn patients that antibiotics could mask the presence of the deadly disease.

The girlfriend of 18-year-old Ben Brown yesterday told the Herald on Sunday that she would never have given her sick partner antibiotics if she knew it would cost him his life.

Brown died on August 27 in 2011 from meningococcal disease after Whangarei White Cross clinic gave him antibiotics, a meningitis leaflet and more drugs to treat what it believed to be flu.

He remained undiagnosed for a further 24 hours despite returning to Whangarei Base Hospital later that evening where he was discharged after a four-hour wait. The next day he returned to hospital, his body in the grip of the killer disease. He died three days later.

Shortland identified serious shortcomings in the public hospital treatment delay, staff levels and communication between health professionals.

He said antibiotics had masked the seriousness of Brown's symptoms and recommended the public health pamphlet handed to sick patients be reviewed.

MacKenzie, 21, said it was too late for Brown but she hoped this would spare someone else the heartache she had lived with for nearly three years. "There's always that sort of wondering what would have happened if he actually got diagnosed straight away. It's the 'what if'?"

She said there were several different opportunities in the hours after Brown fell ill where doctors could have spared his life by making a correct diagnosis.

"I guess no outcome that the coroner could make to anyone that knew Ben would make us happy. But knowing that there is something in place now, while it doesn't make us feel any better, any wrongs that they did can now help others."

Ben's father Darren Brown last night said the death had "scarred the family for life" and they are considering a bid for compensation.

The Ministry of Health yesterday acknowledged the coroner's findings and said the recommendations would be taken seriously.

Shortland said the Northland District Health Board recognised it "got many things wrong"' and had made necessary changes.

But Brown's death was a reminder of how complicated the illness was to treat.

The Northland District Health Board refused to comment yesterday.

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n1 at 26 Jul 2014 19:44:14 Processing Time: 744ms