Father’s death on baby’s birthday ‘was preventable’

Image caption, Thomas Gibson was described by his partner Rebecca as “caring, charming and funny”.

  • Author, Gemma Sherlock & PA media
  • Role, BBC News, Manchester

An expectant father who died on the day his daughter was born might have lived if a heart defect had not been missed, a coroner has found.

Thomas Gibson, 40, died on June 7, 2023 from sudden cardiac arrest after a hospital doctor ‘misinterpreted’ a scan 11 days earlier, an inquest at Stockport Coroner’s Court heard.

The inquest was told that if doctors at Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester had fitted Mr Gibson with a pacemaker he would still be alive.

Coroner Christopher Morris concluded that Mr Gibson died as a result of sudden cardiac death due to myocardial fibrosis.

Emergency first aid

On the day Mr Gibson was due to become a father, his partner Rebecca Moss tried to wake him as she prepared to go to hospital for an elective caesarean section.

“Wake up, it’s baby’s day,” she told him, but she found him “stiff and cold” and tried to administer first aid until an ambulance arrived at their home in Stretford, Greater Manchester.

He was pronounced dead and she gave birth to their daughter Harper the same day.

At the end of the two-day hearing, Morris said: ‘I can’t even imagine what that must have been like for her, especially in the context of what should have been the happiest day for both of them. “

He added: “When the clinical team assessed him they did not appreciate that the ECG showed he had complete heart block.

Had this been appreciated, Mr Gibson would have been admitted to the care of cardiologists and a series of tests would have been carried out, which would likely have resulted in the fitting of an implantable device, such as a pacemaker.

“It is likely that these measures could have prevented his death.”

Image caption, Rebecca Moss gave birth to their daughter Harper on the day Mr Gibson died

Dr. Mark Ainsley, the hospital’s clinical director of cardiology, said that if Mr Gibson’s heart problem had been spotted on the ECG scan, he might have been monitored and treated at the scene and fitted with a pacemaker, a procedure that would take ‘less than an hour,” he said.

The coroner asked: ‘Do you think this sequence of events could probably have prevented his death?’

Dr. Ainsley replied: “I think the short duration between the ECG and his heart failing makes it more than likely that he could have avoided his death.”

The inquest heard that Mr Gibson worked at a timber yard and was physically fit, but had been suffering from stomach problems, including cramps and diarrhea, for about three weeks before his death.

It culminated in him going to the emergency department at Wythenshawe Hospital on May 27 last year.

He was seen by Dr Oliver Handley, who recognized that his ECG trace showed signs of an abnormality and referred it to a senior doctor, Dr Thomas Bull, the medical registrar, for a second opinion.

‘No other symptoms’

Dr. Bull said the ECG scan likely represented an abnormality he described as intraventricular block, which is “not an unusual finding” and not clinically “significant” without other heart-related symptoms.

Since there were no other heart-related symptoms, he was discharged.

But later analysis concluded that the ECG identified complete heart block, also known as third-degree heart block, the most serious type.

Dr. Matthew Thornber, a consultant at the hospital, said the two ECGs taken were not “textbook examples” of the appearance of heart block disease and that such a diagnosis requires nuance and experience.

“This is not a barn door you can easily miss,” he said.

The coroner said he would write a report on the prevention of future deaths, addressed to the chief executive of Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust and the National Institute of Clinical Excellence, on clinical practice, around the interpretation of ECG scans.

In a statement, Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust said: “We would once again extend our condolences and sincere condolences to Mr Gibson’s family at this very difficult time.

‘The trust has carried out a thorough investigation to investigate the circumstances surrounding Mr Gibson’s very sad death and we apologize for any instances where our care has not met the high standards we strive for.

“We will carefully review the coroner’s conclusion.”