‘Healthy’ student from Essex died of deadly strain of meningitis

A teenage student who died from a deadly strain of meningitis after her school and GP practice didn’t give her a vaccination that could have saved her was a ‘fit and healthy’ football fan, an inquest has heard.

Lauren Sandell, 18, died from meningococcal W meningitis, an aggressive strain of the disease, in October 2016 – just two weeks into her sports psychology and coaching sciences at Bournemouth University.

Days before her death, she had returned to her home in Woodford Green, Essex, feeling unwell and stressed because she wasn’t sure if she would enjoy her university course.

She was able to go for a five-mile run in the week before her death, but she had been suffering from days of headaches, vomiting and fatigue, which her mother attributed to stress.

Her mother Sharon Sandell told the inquest that in the hours before she died, her daughter complained of blurry eyes and breathlessness and her skin also appeared ‘mottled’.

Miss Sandell was in her mother’s bed discussing the possibility of transferring to a university in London when she suddenly began hyperventilating, Walthamstow Coroner’s Court in East London heard.

Paramedics arrived within minutes, but were unable to revive her.

Lauren Sandell (pictured) died from meningococcal W meningitis in October 2016

Miss Sandell was a fit and active student who enjoyed football and running, her inquest heard on Thursday.

The inquest also heard that her GP surgery hadn’t sent out messages about vaccinations for nearly a year before her death.

Miss Sandell, who turned 18 in January 2016, was not informed about the vaccine because a practice nurse in charge of sending out text messages to teenagers hadn’t updated the system since November 2015.

The student had visited her GP in May and August 2016, but was not told about the vaccination.

A GP told the court that their system was ‘opportunistic’ and relied on the text messages and patients asking for the vaccine themselves.

In guidance published by Public Health England, GP surgeries were required to carry out a call and recall service for 18-year-olds in order to vaccinate them against the strain.

But the inquest heard nurse Carol Dolphin had been updating a list of 18-year-olds and sending out an automatic text message to tell them about the vaccine.

But she hadn’t updated her list in the two months before Miss Sandell’s 18th birthday – which meant she didn’t receive a text.

The surgery did not send out letters such as the ones that Public Health England offered as a template to surgeries, it admitted.

Giving evidence at the inquest, Dr Sanjeeda Ahmed from The Broadway Surgery in Woodford Green said: ‘We knew to vaccinate these patients within this age group and we were doing it opportunistically and we had lists of patients turning 18 at carious times of the year to which messages were sent about the vaccination.

‘There was a system in place. There were lists drawn up at various times and texts were sent out.

The fit and active teenager (pictured) had been studying sports psychology and coaching sciences at Bournemouth University for just two weeks before her death in October 2016

The fit and active teenager (pictured) had been studying sports psychology and coaching sciences at Bournemouth University for just two weeks before her death in October 2016

‘A nurse did it when she had time to do it. Different people turn 18 at different times do you have to do it at different times to catch the population.

‘I wasn’t aware of exactly when she was sending out the text messages.’

Dr Ahmed also said that a pop-up on their system would remind them to ask teenagers if they had had the vaccination – but that there must not have been one for Miss Sandell when she visited the surgery.

She said: ‘We can’t tell if there was a pop up. The GP Lauren saw says she didn’t see one.’

Dr Ahmed said the surgery was looking at changing its systems to ensure young adults in the year group that may have missed out on a vaccination at school are approached.

She said: ‘We have been looking at this and we are going to make it an administrative job. It’s quite a big task. We are looking into hiring someone full time to do this.’

The doctor said that in the group of teenagers a year younger than Lauren, they had now vaccinated around 70 per cent of them.

Earlier on Thursday, the coroner heard that Miss Sandell’s high school did not vaccinate older students.

 She was such an angelic wonderful person, people wanted to support us and remember her

The inquest heard that nationally, the rate of vaccination is still only 39 per cent in the age group that is most at risk of contracting the bug – which is between 17 and 25.

Mrs Sandell also told the inquest that nurse Dolphin told her that she could not offer her daughter a vaccine before she left for university as she only had five in stock.

She said that Ms Dolphin informed her that all the vaccines available had been allocated and it would take two weeks for more to come in.

But Ms Dolphin claimed that during an appointment, she had offered to vaccinate Miss Sandell later that day.

‘Sharon had mentioned that Lauren was going to attend university,’ she said.

‘I said has she had her vaccination and she said no she didn’t know anything about it. I was talking about the vaccination explaining it was a requirement for university.

Her mother Sharon Sandell (pictured) told the inquest that in the hours before she died, her daughter complained of blurry eyes and breathlessness

Her mother Sharon Sandell (pictured) told the inquest that in the hours before she died, her daughter complained of blurry eyes and breathlessness

‘I normally say to any patient that when their child receives a letter from university there’s information on that letter that all should seek to get the vaccine.

‘But Sharon said she knew nothing about that and she said what’s it about. And I said it’s freshers week and the first few weeks when they start they are partying, socialising and have close contact.

‘I didn’t go into it a lot. I don’t think I would go into it in full depth.’

Ms Dolphin said she allocated vaccines on a daily basis and had a ‘clear recollection’ of offering one to Miss Sandell.

She said she did not allocate vaccinations to patients in advance, saying: ‘It’s not my responsibility or job to say that this person can have this vaccination and this person can’t.’

Ms Dolphin said she did not work for the next two days and admitted she did not chase up the family when she came back into work on the Friday.

There is no evidence in Lauren’s medical notes that she was planning to book a vaccine, the inquest heard.

Becoming tearful, Ms Dolphin said she had gone on compassionate leave shortly after the appointment and did not hear about Miss Sandell’s death until she returned to work some months later.

‘When I came back after compassionate leave and heard the news the one thing I remember is that conversation with Sharon,’ she said.

‘And I felt terrible that she didn’t get it and the poor girl is dead now.’

Mrs Sandell told the inquest that she had been in contact with her daughter every day during her first two weeks at university.

Around a week after she arrived, she told her mother she was feeling unwell and after being sick several times, the teenager believed she had food poisoning.

In the early hours of the October 1, Miss Sandell’s boyfriend Harry called Mrs Sandell because her daughter was shaking in bed.

‘I told him to give her a cup of tea and a biscuit because I thought she had low blood sugar related to stress,’ Mrs Sandell said.

‘I thought she might also have food poisoning as she mentioned. I got a text back later to say she had stopped shaking and was OK and had gone to sleep.

‘They slept in until 12.30 the next day and I thought it was odd as she normally wakes up earlier than that.’

They returned to Essex the following day for a weekend at home – and Miss Sandell was said to be complaining of feeling cold and nauseous.

She also said her legs ached and she was unable to stand on her feet for long.

‘When her brother hugged her she winced and pulled back. But at the time I just thought it was her little brother annoying her,’ Miss Sandell said.

‘She seemed really quiet and tired and and kept closing her eyes.’

That Sunday, she began hyperventilating in bed and Mrs Sandell called her sister, who is a paramedic.

‘She felt very cold. She said her stomach was hurting and I could feel she was cold. I gave her a hot water bottle,’ Miss Sandell said.

‘She got in bed with me and seemed very restless and got up to go to the toilet again. She sat on the floor and said her eyes were blurry.

‘I thought it was stress. My husband picked her up and put her in bed with me. I was actually Googling London universities when she started hyperventilating.

‘It’s a bit of a blur, it was terrifying. I thought at the time she was having a panic attack.’

Her sister advised Mrs Sandell to call an ambulance after her daugher’s eyes rolled back and she collapsed.

‘I thought she was unconscious. She wasn’t responding,’ she said.

Mrs Sandell said: ‘My other son Will was screaming for her to wake up.

‘The police arrived and interviewed me downstairs in our living room. I just remember thinking: ‘how can you die of a panic attack?’

Paying tribute to her daughter, she said. ‘She was such an angelic wonderful person, people wanted to support us and remember her.

‘Around 500 people came to the funeral and her friends let off balloons. During the service light was shining in on the coffin. When it finished there were gusts of winds and hailstones.

‘When they let off the balloons it was sunny again and there was a rainbow. I felt a presence from Lauren like she was there.’

Mrs Sandell said she has since worked with a meningitis charity to raise awareness of the vaccination.

She said she made and sent out a YouTube video to 8,000 schools, sixth forms and colleges to raise awareness.

‘I do not want any other family to go through this. I have a nagging feeling no one actually cares. It could have easily been innoculated against,’ she said.

‘It’s like having a cure for cancer and not using it. I don’t see a time when I will ever get over this. I still think the message is not getting out there. It’s still nowhere near where it needs to be.’ 

The inquest continues. 




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