'Neglected' Bristol mum dies hours after landing home from dream family holiday

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NHS worker Sharon Goddard died from a rare heart condition after receiving “neglectful” hospital care that contributed to her death

A Bristol mum-of-three died from a rare heart condition after receiving “neglectful” hospital care that contributed to her death, just hours after landing from a dream family holiday to the Caribbean.

Sharon Goddard, 53, was on her way home from celebrating 25 years of marriage to devoted husband Neale, as well as their joint 50th birthdays, with loved ones when she began experiencing chest pains as the plane landed back in England and she was taken to hospital.

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An inquest at the end of December heard how Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust failed to provide and procure basic medical attention in time. Sharon’s devastated family are now calling for greater awareness of Loeys-Dietz Syndrome (LDS) to protect others who have it.

Their call comes after a coroner ruled that Sharon, who suffered from the condition, died from natural causes contributed to by neglect as a consequence of a failure to recognise and treat her ‘aortic dissection’ – a life-threatening tear in the heart’s main artery – in a timely manner.

The failures were partly systemic and partly operational and had a cumulative effect, the inquest at the Old Bailey in London was told. The coroner heard evidence that at various stages in Sharon’s medical care, those treating her failed to ask the right questions or recognise the severity of her condition.

She should have been seen within an hour of arriving at the emergency department at East Surrey Hospital and on her way to a specialist centre for cardiothoracic surgery within four hours.

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But Sharon, who worked in the NHS for 30 years, including at Southmead and Bristol Children’s Hospital, was in A&E for more than 12 hours before being transferred for urgent surgery, but tragically died before the operation could take place.

Her family believe that the initial decision made by a paramedic set in train a series of delays that cost Sharon her life. They say the care that followed was unacceptable and not appropriate for her condition as she needed emergency cardiac specialist treatment.

Following Sharon’s diagnosis from the CT scan, which revealed she needed emergency heart surgery, it took six hours to get her to the operating table, in addition to the 10 hours prior to this that she was waiting for the diagnosis.

The inquest heard she suffered a cardiac arrest during the anaesthesia process, preventing the surgeons from performing the lifesaving operation. The coroner’s report said: “I am satisfied, on the balance of probabilities that Mrs Goddard’s death was avoidable.”

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The NHS trust said it was “profoundly sorry”, that it accepted the coroner’s findings and had taken several actions since the tragedy. Jackie Linehan, medical negligence and inquest solicitor at Bristol-based legal firm Enable Law, which is representing the family, said: “Sharon’s loss was a complete tragedy.

“There were multiple missed opportunities. If her condition had been recognised and addressed on time, things very likely would have been different and she would be here with us.

“Systemic delays played an equal part to lack of recognition of her condition.”

Hannah Goddard, the eldest of Sharon’s three daughters, said: “Mum had a smile that could light up any room.

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Sharon GoddardSharon Goddard
Sharon Goddard | ldr

“She proudly and passionately worked for the NHS for over 30 years and loved her job as a senior medical secretary at BUPA, Southmead and Bristol Children’s Hospital.

“Knowing that she lost her life due to the failure of the NHS and medical staff responsible for her care is unbelievably heartbreaking.

“Mum had a rare condition called Loeys-Dietz Syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects connective tissue.

“There are many symptoms, but the ones that carry the highest risk are related to the cardiovascular system.

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“LDS can cause enlargement of the aorta which can lead to aortic aneurysm or dissection.

“Aortic dissection (AD) occurs when there is a tear in the inner layer of the aorta causing the layers to split.

“AD is a life-threatening condition which, if not diagnosed via a CT scan and treated promptly, can be fatal.

“We want to stress the importance of educating people, particularly in the medical field, about Loeys-Dietz Syndrome and aortic dissection, so that a repeat can be avoided in the future.

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“There are many tests available to aid diagnosis of LDS and you can be referred for genetic testing and counselling from your GP.”

She urged people to visit the Think Aorta education campaign webpages which aim to save lives.

Sharon died on December 19, 2022, and her inquest took place from October 31 to November 2 last year, with the coroner’s verdict on December 28.

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A Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust spokesperson said: “We are profoundly sorry and offer our deepest sympathies to Sharon Goddard’s family during this difficult time.

“Whilst we cannot comment on individual cases, delivering high-quality care to our patients is our priority and we accept the coroner’s findings.

“We have taken a number of actions since this incident took place and continue to work with our teams, to learn, improve our services and support the needs of our patients and their families.”

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