The furious family of late Senator Kimberley Kitching has lashed out at ABC health guru Norman Swan for suggesting her death could have been Covid-related.
The Labor MP died of a sudden heart attack on March 10 aged 52, six days after cricket legend Shane Warne suffered the same fate at the same age.
Dr Swan sparked a firestorm on Tuesday when he told Daily Mail Australia that it was ‘too much of a coincidence’ that both had ‘died not long after a Covid infection’.
However, Senator Kitching’s family said she never contracted Covid and Dr Swan was forced to publicly apologise after they called him to correct the error.
‘We would have known [if she had Covid],’ a close family member who asked not to be named told Daily Mail Australia.
Senator Kimberley Kitching’s furious family has lashed out at Norman Swan for suggesting her death could have been Covid-related
ABC health expert Norman Swan suggested cricket legend Shane Warne and Senator Kimberley Kitching’s deaths were Covid-related
‘Every time she went to Canberra she had to get tested so she had a lot of tests and never had it.
‘It adds to our heartache, he’s so obtuse and low class he wouldn’t even recognise his error.’
Senator Kitching was instead suffering from hyperthyroidism in the months before she died, although her symptoms were improving.
Her family lodged a complaint with the ABC and received a personal apology from the former GP on Monday night.
‘Kimberley’s mum is really angry about it,’ they said.
The family member said after they read Daily Mail Australia’s report on Monday night they scrambled to get hold of Dr Swan.
‘I didn’t really know what to do so I rang the ABC switchboard like a crank and of course they wouldn’t put me through,’ they said
‘So I called a friend who gave me his number and I rang him.
‘To be honest, he couldn’t have been more mortified and gracious about it. Everyone makes mistakes.’
Labor Senator Kimberley Kitching (pictured) died aged 52 from a heart attack on March 10
Senator Kitching (pictured with her husband Andrew Landeryou) was suffering from hyperthyroidism in the months before she died, but never had Covid
The family member said Dr Swan was unable to explain why he believed Senator Kitching had Covid.
‘I think he was confused and conflated Warne and Kimberley. He said there had been some reporting around her having Covid,’ they said.
‘He was pretty fast and loose about this, which is not really the impression I’ve had of him, I don’t know where he got it from and he couldn’t really explain it.’
However, the family source said even if, like Warne, Senator Kitching did have Covid at some point, it was still bad form to speculate it caused her death.
‘He’s a doctor, he shouldn’t say that without diagnosing her, she obviously wasn’t his patient. It’s bizarre, I don’t really understand it,’ they said.
‘The coroner’s report didn’t say anything about Covid. It’s irrelevant.
‘We’re pretty upset because when she died a few wackos, f**ked up people wrote to us saying the vaccine killed her.
‘This bloke (Dr Swan) is kind of the other side of that stupid coin.
‘I can kind of understand it, he’s a zealot wanting to discourage people from taking risks.
‘The weird thing is I’m probably more on his side in this, I wear masks on trains and others places where most don’t anymore.’
Senator Kitching’s family including her husband, Andrew Landeryou (centre), take a moment after her flag-covered coffin is loaded into the hearse at her funeral
Senator Kitching’s parents weep next to her coffin during her funeral. Her mother said Swan’s suggestion her death was linked to Covid added to that heartache
The family member was also bemused by Dr Swan insisting he wouldn’t have made the Covid connection if he thought it would upset their families.
‘What would be hurtful is saying Kimberley Kitching had a dreadful lifestyle, if I was blaming her for the heart attack that would be a dreadful thing to say to the family,’ Dr Swan said.
‘But if it’s a side effect of Covid it starts to explain things.’
Senator Kitching’s family said this comment – even as a hypothetical – was bizarre because other than her hyperthyroidism and alleged bullying by other Labor MPs, she led a healthier lifestyle than her relatives.
‘We emptied out a kitchen full of hippie health food that she always ate, she had a very healthy lifestyle actually – other than having to work with some pretty nasty people,’ they said.
Swan made a brief apology through the media: I’ve spoken to Kimberely Kitching’s husband and apologised deeply. I don’t move away from that whatsoever.
‘I’ve clearly made an error which I deeply regret. I do recall such reports and have checked with others who did too but that doesn’t excuse my having upset the family.’
But he left the on-air mea culpa to his ABC New Breakfast colleagues the next morning.
‘Before we go, we just want to mention Dr Norman Swan has issued an apology after suggesting there may be a Covid link to the deaths of Labor Senator Kimberley Kitching and cricket great Shane Warne,’ host Michael Rowland said.
‘Dr Swan says he’s personally apologised to Senator Kitching’s husband yesterday and that he made an error he regrets.’
Senator Kitching’s father William Kitching speaks at her funeral
A ‘mortified’ Dr Swan (pictured with Fiona Higgins at his book launch) was forced to publicly apologise after Senator Kitching’s family contact him
Former deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth was also unimpressed with Dr Swan shooting from the hip.
‘I think Norman would be the first to agree that it wasn’t his best moment in the pandemic,’ he told 2GB radio.
‘You can’t go wrong if you just avoid making assumptions and speculating about causes of death, particularly when they were both so tragic.
‘The lessons we should draw is that every senator should aspire to be like Kimberly Kitching, every young boy or girl who picks up a cricket ball should be like Shane Warne.
‘That’s all we should take out of that, the positive of their lives and that sort of speculation [from Swan] should have no place in the Covid discourse.’
Ben Fordham, in the same segment as speaking to Dr Coatsworth, said Dr Swan ‘made a fool of himself’ and should be ashamed.
He called Dr Swan’s comments ‘dangerous’ and accused him of peddling doomsday scenarios trying to scare the life out of people’.
Dr Swan said comments like Fordham’s were ‘bulls**t’ because ‘some people just don’t believe in public health measures’. He went even further in comments to the Sydney Morning Herald.
‘I got it wrong with Kimberley Kitching and I regret that, but the data are the data and if Ben Fordham wants to go and pretend that this is a benign disease that doesn’t cause any problems he’s living in cloud-cuckoo-land,’ he said.
Warne (pictured with his children) died aged just 52 of a sudden heart attack on March 4 while on holiday in Thailand a few weeks after a mild case of Covid
Dr Swan said Warne had various lifestyle risk factors but Covid could have ‘pushed him over the edge’
Before being set straight, Dr Swan told Daily Mail Australia that Covid infections could explain Warne and Senator Kitching’s deaths.
‘There’s no way of proving it, there’s just too much of a coincidence that they both had Covid prior to their sudden cardiac arrests,’ he said.
‘It is being reported around the world that Covid causes inflammation in the arteries of the heart.
‘Shane Warne had lots of risk factors for heart disease, but if he was going to get a bit of extra inflammation from Covid, that could have tipped him over the edge.
‘These are two high-profile people, one of whose death was a complete surprise, and they both had Covid in the background.’
The former GP turned pundit pointed to British research linking contracting the virus to a greater risk of heart attacks.
The study of 48 million unvaccinated patients claimed Covid may have led to 10,500 cases of heart attacks, strokes and other blood clot complications such as deep vein thrombosis.
Swan summarised the findings of the study that compared the medical records of patients of a similar age, medical history, and other risk factors.
‘In the early stages after infection the risk it found the risk of arterial thrombosis was 21 times greater, and 33 times for veinous thrombosis… that’s enormous,’ he said,
‘Even six months afterwards the risk is between 30 per cent and 50 per cent higher of having a heart attack, stroke or a thrombosis in your legs, so that’s significantly increased risk.’
Senator Kitching’s death while being ‘bullied’ by Labor MPs
Senator Kitching was suffering from hyperthyroidism that caused her to lose weight in the months before her death.
The condition can ’cause problems that masquerade as heart disease or make existing heart disease worse’, according to a Harvard study.
Hyperthyroidism can mimic other health problems, which can make it difficult for doctors to diagnose.
The long list of symptoms included rapid heartbeat (tachycardia) – commonly more than 100 beats a minute, irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), and pounding of your heart (palpitations).
Senator Kitching’s allies also claimed she was ostracised and bullied by Labor ‘mean girls’ Penny Wong, Katy Gallagher and Ms Keneally before her sudden death.
Ex-Labor MP Michael Danby, a close friend of Ms Kitching, claimed her treatment by senior female members crossed a line.
‘It’s a fine line, people are entitled to fierce disagreements, but it was too much in my opinion, what was done crossed that fine line and people should say they’re sorry and they regret it,’ Mr Danby said.
Mr Danby hit out at the Labor right for ‘dangling’ her pre-selection over her head which he said had caused the politician undue stress.
Dr Swan mentioned Warne and Kitching in passing as he warned ABC News viewers on Tuesday morning not to be complacent about the fourth Covid wave.
Some ABC viewers expressed their support for his Covid warning on social media, but others were unimpressed with the references to Warne and Senator Kitching.
‘Extremely disrespectful to speculate about causes of death with zero evidence merely to push your chosen barrow,’ one wrote.
Dr Swan accepted that some Australians may feel that way about him invoking the pair’s deaths as part of a Covid warning, but he felt it was reasonable.
‘That’s a fair cop. But equally, I’m sure the families are wondering why it happened, and this could be an explanation,’ he said.
‘These weren’t private deaths, they were very public and had an impact on a lot of people who scratched their heads and wondered why, and that could have been a reason.
‘If I thought it was hurtful to the families I wouldn’t have said it.
‘What would be hurtful is saying Kimberley Kitching had a dreadful lifestyle, if I was blaming her for the heart attack that would be a dreadful thing to say to the family.
‘But if it’s a side effect of Covid it starts to explain things.
‘I think it helps to have an explanation and this might be one, and it’s a message to other people that you have to be careful and not blasé about catching this.’
Swan used another example of Professor Chris Goodnow, who was forced to resign in July as executive director of Garvan Institute of Medical Research due to heart complications from Covid.
‘These heart side effects do happen, and it’s probably one or two per cent of people. So your individual risk is low, but with tens of thousands being infected that’s quite a lot of people in the community,’ he said.
‘You shouldn’t go out trying to catch it thinking it’s harmless and it will give you more immunity, you should try to avoid it if you can.’
Dr Swan explained that warnings from state governments in the past week about a growing fourth wave of coronavirus were just about reducing strain on hospitals.
He said politicians weren’t worried about long Covid and other complications, but Australians should be.
He said recent research from Israel found the fourth dose – a second booster now available to Australians – protected very well against infection for several weeks.
‘So if you haven’t had your fourth dose, now is quite a good time to get it as you might avoid catching Covid [during this new wave],’ he said.
This was in addition to much longer lasting protection against symptomatic and serious illness.
One of the last pictures taken of Shane Warne hours before his death at a luxury resort in Koh Samui on March 4
Swan is not the first medical expert to draw a link between Covid and Warne’s death, based on other studies finding increased risks.
Professor Jeremy Nicholson, pro-vice chancellor for Health Sciences at Murdoch University, said there was a ‘significant possibility’ an underlying heart condition could be exacerbated by the virus.
‘Shane may well have had some sub-clinical level pre-existing atherosclerosis (this is very common in men over 40) that was then accelerated by Covid-19,’ he said days after the cricket star’s death.
Professor Nicholson wrote in a scientific paper it was observed that the rate of cardiovascular events was greatly increased for up to a year for Covid patients.
He said while not proven, the use of a ventilator could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, with the virus sometimes causing arteries to harden.
‘We do know that SARS COV-2 infections are highly atherogenic in the acute phase and that impacts on heart attack risks and strokes,’ he said.
Professor Nicholson said the shock death of the cricketer highlighted the increased risk at the population level for people who have contracted Covid-19.
A Washington University study at the time found a year after catching Covid, patients had a 72 per cent higher rate of heart failure and their risk of heart attack jumped by 63 per cent.