Sunday, March 30, 2008

Docs ordered to apologize after Anton White, 15, dies despite four examinations in four months

"The doctors failed Anton. I don't think I'll ever get over it."

From the Sunday Mail in the UK:

TWO doctors have been ordered to apologize for failing to make simple checks on a teenager who died of multiple organ failure.

A shocking report from a health watchdog reveals Anton White, 15, could have survived if GPs Agnes Wallace, 60, and James Miller, 48, had bothered to check his pulse or listen to his heart.

The schoolboy died after four visits to the medics in four months failed to spot signs of dilated cardiomyopathy, meaning his weakened and enlarged heart could not pump blood properly.

Despite the teen complaining of breathlessness, they did not conduct routine tests but told him he was suffering from panic attacks and had stomach problems.

By the time he was diagnosed properly it was too late to give him the heart transplant that could have saved him.

Scottish Public Services Ombudsman Professor Alice Brown blamed Dr Wallace and Dr Miller and in a rare move told them to say sorry to Anton's parents Bobby and Anna.

The couple, of Clydebank, have reported the GPs to the General Medical Council and are considering legal action.

MumAnna, 48, a learning assistant at Clydebank High School, said: "I felt very angry when the report came out.

"I knew all along they weren't being professional. The most upsetting part is things could have been different.

Had he got into hospital earlier, there would have been a chance.

"Death is so final, we would have taken the heart transplant. Even if he had died while getting it, everything possible would have been tried.

"But it was too late. By the time he got to hospital his heart was the size of a football.There was no chance - all his organs were failing.

"The doctors failed Anton. I don't think I'll ever get over it."

Anton vomited every day for four months, suffered palpitations and ran out of breath going upstairs.

He visited Dr Wallace at Clydebank Health Centre three times before seeing Dr Miller.

Dr Wallace - who has since retired - first prescribed Anton beta-blockers and sent him to a psychiatrist as she thought he suffered from panic attacks.

He got worse and began vomiting blood while his weight plummeted by 10lb and he became lethargic.

A month later Anton again saw Dr Wallace and the Whites say they told him their son was short of breath climbing stairs and his heart was beating fast. The GP agreed to review the effect of the beta-blockers.

Five weeks later Dr Wallace, of Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire, still failed to examine him properly. She referred him to a stomach specialist and prescribed an ulcer treatment.

Two weeks later Anna returned with Anton as his condition worsened.

The family claim Dr Miller, a married dad of three from Bearsden, near Glasgow, simply changed Anton's medication.

Anton returned three days later on August 27 when he was seen by Dr Michael Fletcher, who spotted a "bluish tinge" in his complexion and immediately sent him to Glasgow's Western Infirmary. He was moved to Yorkhill Hospital the next morning but died after two weeks on a life support machine.

Pipe fitter Bobby, 48, said: "When Anton came out of the doctors, he knew something was wrong and felt he was hitting his head against a brick wall. For most doctors, alarm bells would ring if a 15-year-old was that ill.

"If DrWallace had taken his pulse the first time, she could have found out it was something serious. They have destroyed my faith in the health service."

The ombudsman took evidence from a GP adviser and heart specialist, who criticised Dr Wallace and Dr Miller. Prof Brown said: "This is a tragic case and I can appreciate Mr and Mrs White's concerns that, had an earlier referral and diagnosis been made, their son may have been able to have a transplant.

"The advice I received is that, with appropriate and timely specialist help, he may have survived.

"The ombudsman recommends that Dr Wallace and Dr Miller apologize to Mr and Mrs White for the shortcomings identified in the report."

She also wrote: "Whenever the symptom of palpitation is mentioned, a GP should at least feel the pulse and consider listening to the heart."

The General Medical Council said: "We are unable to confirm whether any doctor is being investigated."

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said: "GPs are independent contractors but the board will work with doctors to ensure the ombudsman's recommendations are implemented."

Dr Wallace and Dr Miller declined to comment last night.

'For most doctors, alarm bells would ring if a 15-year-old was that ill' said Anton's dad, Bobby White.


Dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) is a condition where the heart gets weakened, enlarged and cannot pump blood efficiently.

The decreased heart function can affect the lungs, liver and other body systems.

It occurs more often in men than women and is most common between 20 and 60.

DCM is often fatal, with a risk of sudden death, but drug treatments can prolong life and a heart transplant may be considered.

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