Inquest: Coroner praises son's valiant efforts to save mother's life as she choked on dinner

Inquest: Coroner praises son's efforts to save mother's life as she choked on dinner

Coroner Dr. Denis McCauley

A son's valiant efforts to save his 59-year-old mother's life as she choked on her dinner were praised by coroner for the district of Donegal, Dr Denis McCauley.

He made his remarks at the inquest into the death of Bernadette (Bernie) O'Donnell, from Stragally, Cloghan which was held at Letterkenny Courthouse.

In his deposition to the hearing her son, Patrick, told how on June 8, 2019 he had come back from working with sheep on the farm around 3.15pm when his mother told him dinner was nearly ready. He declined it as he was watching a soccer game between Leeds United and Derby County on the television.

"I recall mum telling me it was out and I might as well have it. She was already sitting at the table with dad. We were having spicy chops and vegetables for dinner."

He added during dinner he recalled hearing a funny grumbling noise coming from his mother.
"She pushed her chair out with some force, stood up and looked at me with her hand on her chest.

She went over to the sink and poured herself a glass of water and attempted to drink it but she wasn't able to swallow it."

He added she then left the sink and went to the bathroom but her face was turning a colour when this was going on so he knew something was wrong. He followed her to the bathroom where he saw some food in the sink.

"She held me by the hand, looked at me and then just fell back on the bathroom floor," he said.
Mr O'Donnell gave details of ringing 999 and asking for an ambulance.

He received instructions to put his mother on her back and apply CPR. He contacted her sister-in-law, Nuala Doherty and shortly after Mrs Doherty, her husband, Seamus and daughter Lisa came to their house as did Katie O'Donnell. Lisa assisted him with the CPR calling out instructions until the ambulance arrived, he said.

He added a short time after the ambulance service took over his mother was pronounced dead.

Asked by the coroner if their mum would have been someone who would have choked easily, another family member said she had an operation on her throat a few years before that.
Dr McCauley said he was curious after Mr O'Donnell junior had mentioned the spicy chops and vegetables.

"It was probably the meat then," he said.

He praised the witness for the quality of his evidence and his efforts to help his mother.
"Some people would leave the room but you obviously followed her and gave her the best chance you could," he said.

Other evidence of identifying the body and taking it to the morgue was given by Garda Gerard McCready and how one of the paramedics, Frankie O'Donnell, informed him that during the resuscitation procedure he had removed a large amount of food from Mrs O'Donnell's throat. He also revealed how Dr Gerry Lane, Consultant Emergency Medicine, was also present during the resuscitation procedure and how he pronounced her dead after unsuccessful attempts to resuscitate her.

He agreed with the coroner's assessment that this was a genuine accident and nothing suspicious about Mrs O'Donnell's death.

Dr Hajnalka Gyorffy, consultant histopathologist, gave evidence of the post-mortem results to the hearing. In it she said she found food particles in Mrs O'Donnell's trachea which was almost completely blocked as well as some non-digested food in her right bronchus.

Dr McCauley said despite the resuscitation efforts by her son Patrick, the paramedics and Dr Lane there was still food in her throat.

Dr Gyorffy said it was much deeper than they could get to.

Dr McCauley added as a result that would mean a lack of oxygen to her brain.
"It is very important from the family's point of view to know when Bridie swallowed this food there was nothing they could have done. Patrick did the right thing and tried to slap her on the back."
He added some food was removed by the emergency services but even with that there was still residing in both the trachea and right bronchus so when Mrs O'Donnell did choke it would have been almost impossible to save her.

"The reason I stress that is when someone is choking you feel helpless and could you have done more but I think in this case you could not have so it's very important to realise that," he said.

He returned a verdict of accidental death.

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