"Amazingly brave" Radstock teenager died just eight days after doctors discovered spinal tumour and brain cancer
An inquest has heard that an "amazingly brave" 16-year-old from Radstock died just eight days after being diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer.
The Coroner's Court heard that Natasha Simmonds may have been suffering from the cancer through her spine, brain stem, brain and face, and also a tumour which was wrapped around her spine, for up to two years before her death, but her symptoms were mistaken by doctors for migraines.
However, the slow-growing cancer spread from her spinal chord into her brain and two emergency operations were performed in the days before Natasha, of Wells Road, Radstock, died on January 24 this year.
The Norton Radstock College student died from lung damage caused by the cancer after she experienced difficulties coming round following a scan and lumber puncture.
The inquest heard 24 appointments in the last year of her life with four different paediatricians, six GPs and three accident and emergency doctors had failed to diagnose the condition.
There were many more appointments prior to that starting back from 2008, though her symptoms became much, much worse from 2010 onwards.
Avon coroner Maria Voisin was told that Natasha’s complex symptoms, which included headaches, numbness in her limbs, back pains, visual disturbances, personality change and vomiting, had been put down to migraine.
Natasha’s mother, Sarah, broke down as she asked for answers as to why her daughter had not been given an MRI scan at an earlier stage and which may have helped prolong her life.
She told the hearing her daughter had been very frightened.
She said: “The misdiagnosis had a part to play. No one knows what the outcome would have been.
Tash was so scared and frightened during the last days of her life.”
Natasha’s family were told that lessons had been learned from her death and that the circumstances surrounding it had been discussed by health professionals at Bath's Royal United Hospital where she had been under the care of consultant Colin Downie.
The case will be discussed during a review into children’s deaths at the RUH that will take place in a few months.
The coroner was also told that new training had been put in place for junior paediatric doctors.
Consultant paediatric neurosurgeon Michael Carter, who had performed emergency surgery on the teenager, said: “There is now a whole generation of junior paediatricians who are aware that brain tumours can present in different ways over a long time and this is down to what happened to Natasha.”
Dr Downie had put Natasha’s illness down to migraines because she had seemed to get better between each episode and said the facts he had at the time did not fit the pattern of a spine or brain tumour.
He saw Natasha in February 2012 and it was in November that he organised for a scan to take place because despite her treatment she was still experiencing severe pain.
Dr Downie said something had clearly changed from the last time he had seen his patient.
He said: “The migraine headaches did not seem such a problem at that time but there were unexplained symptoms so I decided the way forward was a scan."
The scan was arranged for January and Dr Downie said if he had regrets it was that he had not requested an urgent scan at that time.
Ms Voisin recorded a narrative verdict that Natasha Simmonds had died from natural causes.
She had a slow-growing cancer that had probably been present since 2010 and not diagnosed until shortly before she died.
She said that she had given very careful consideration to the evidence and there was no need to make a formal recommendation.
After the inquest Mrs Simmonds said: “My regret is that I never got to tell her how amazingly brave she was and that breaks my heart.”