A grieving mother who lost her two-year-old daughter to a rare form of lung cancer is calling on the local health board to investigate after medical professionals failed to detect her illness.
Kelly Clarkson saw a total of six doctors and five nurses over a period of 28 months with her daughter Megan, who first developed a bad cough back in September 2016.
At one point the child’s respiratory rate had increased to double the normal level, she had begun to lose weight and her chest was indrawing, which is known as subcostal recession – a sign of breathing difficulties.
Mrs Clarkson, from Kirkcaldy, says she was “fobbed off” numerous times by a succession of GPs at her local medical practice over a two-year period, with no recommendation of an X-ray.
She said Megan, who died in January, had a persistent cough since starting nursery at six months of age, was being sick after eating and was off solids as far back as November 2016.
After four months of being constantly told it was nothing more than an upper respiratory tract infection and that “some kids cough”, Mrs Clarkson stopped going to her GP until November 2018 after listening to the advice of doctors.
When you do come back and it is worse, you feel fobbed off. You feel let down and you’re less likely to go back and try to find out if there’s anything wrong with your childKelly Clarkson, mother of Megan
By this point her daughter had a pain under her arm and bruising that would not go away.
She told a nurse practitioner that Megan had a chesty cough and was choking at night, but was given antibiotics which the youngster could not swallow.
Mrs Clarkson was then given the first of two inhalers to help her daughter breathe and was told the youngster may have asthma.
Things took a turn for the worst in December. Megan was taken to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh, after Mrs Clarkson said she had to be “nasty” in her demands to see a doctor and not a nurse practitioner.
By this time the X-ray showed a “white out” lung, which is often a sign of pneumonia. But Megan was diagnosed with type three Pleuropulmonary Blastoma – a rare and aggressive form of lung cancer found in children. Her windpipe had shifted to her left side, which meant her condition could deteriorate quickly.
Megan was taken to the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow where an ultrasound of her heart showed the tumour mass had grown, with her best chance of survival being an operation to remove it.
The youngster was operated on and had her whole right lung removed, but suffered a massive bleed and cardiac arrest. She died at nine minutes past midnight on 2 January – just three weeks after being diagnosed.
Mrs Clarkson, who has a son Myles, aged five, said: “Looking back we feel let down by Megan’s care when she was around eight to ten months old. Early detection of cancer is your best hope for defeating it and at an earlier stage Megan would have had a 90 per cent chance of survival and at the end this had dropped to 37 per cent.
“I just think the numbers speak for themselves.”
She added: “Early detection could have saved her life, but the only way we’d have got that is if the doctors had looked passed the viral infections and the ‘come-back-if-it-gets-worse’ attitude.
“When you do come back and it is worse, you feel fobbed off. You feel let down and you’re less likely to go back and try to find out if there’s anything wrong with your child.”
However, despite everything Mrs Clarkson refuses to point the finger at NHS Fife, believing there has been a “systemic failure” that has let everyone down.
She said: “It’s not specific to any one person, it’s letting down the whole system which is letting down the people who work there as well. I believe that nobody is given the chance to do their jobs properly and to help children like Megan. I don’t see how that’s going to be different in the future without a massive change in the system.
“We need to have an investigation into the practices around how we care for children, particularly young children who can’t talk for themselves and improve the level of service that we’re offered.”
NHS Fife medical director Dr Frances Elliot said: “The death of any child is a tragedy and our thoughts and condolences are with the family at this very difficult time.
“NHS Fife has not received any direct communication from the family. However, we would extend an offer to meet with the family to discuss the concerns they have raised.”