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Intellectually disabled dying avoidable deaths

Maureen McIlquham drifts between caressing memories and hellish grief when she thinks of her daughter, Michelle, the Canberra Times reports.

Michelle wanted to be a copy typist. She longed to have a boyfriend and fall in love, like her sister.

She loved to sing and would often skip off to her room, close the door and play Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You as she danced barefoot.

“I miss hearing her music coming through the bedroom wall. I miss her singing. I just miss Michelle,” Mrs McIlquham said.

Michelle died of meningitis on May 19, 2009, after a middle ear infection spread to her brain.

The 28-year-old’s condition was overlooked by medical staff who couldn’t see past her mild intellectual disability, a coronial inquest later found.

Michelle was “evidently in real pain”, the deputy coroner said. But her treating doctor wrote off her distress, crying and moaning as a “temper tantrum” after she’d suffered a seizure and was transferred by ambulance to Bankstown Hospital’s emergency department.

“I told the doctor she wasn’t always like this [non-communicative], but I don’t think they believed me,” Mrs McIlquham said.

Her doctor conceded during a coronial inquest that she had suspected meningitis, but failed to test for the deadly infection. She told a coronial hearing her previous experience with people with intellectual disability had clouded her judgment.

“My daughter was very sick and this doctor judged her because of her disability,” Mrs McIlquham said.

The deputy state coroner Hugh Dillon concluded the diagnosis of “tantrum” was “completely inappropriate both because it was offensive and because it does not designate a medical condition”.

“It is clear medical staff gave insufficient attention and weight to Mrs McIlquham’s concerns … it was even more concerning that she was threatened with security,” the deputy coroner Dillon concluded.


Why people with intellectual disabilities are dying avoidable deaths (Canberra Times)