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​Dog saliva caused rare death of animal lover near Stone

By Staffordshire Newsletter  |  Posted: August 01, 2014

  • Sheena Kavanagh

  • Sheena Kavanagh's horse-drawn hearse

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AN ANIMAL-LOVING grandmother near Stone died from septic shock after dog saliva got into her bloodstream.

The cause of Sheena Kavanagh’s death was so rare that clinicians are considering publishing a report on the case, Cannock Coroner’s Court was told today.

Miss Kavanagh, of Farm View, Hilderstone, owned three dogs, her family said. But when her spleen was removed in 1988 she was not warned that it could put her at risk from capnocytophaga canimorsus, a bacteria found in dog saliva.

Speaking after the hearing daughter Melissa Bromfield, 27, said: “It was a shock as she had been around dogs all her life. She had two Yorkshire terriers, a long-haired Jack Russell and horses, she loved all animals.

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“She was brilliant, a devoted nan and my best friend rather than my mum. There is a massive part of our family missing.”

The splenectomy was carried out after Miss Kavanagh was assaulted by her then partner, the inquest heard, but at the time she told medics her injuries were sustained in a car crash. She escaped the relationship three years later, and her former partner died in 2001.

The spleen helps to protect the body against bacteria but people without the organ are at greater risk of developing serious infections. Two decades ago patients were prescribed antibiotics for life to protect against infection and this later was reduced to the first 10 years after their splenectomy, the inquest heard.

But Ms Bromfield said her mother was not prescribed penicillin until five years ago. The Spot Acre resident told the inquest her mother was taking the antibiotic twice a day right up until her death on April 25.

The 53-year-old returned home from work at Hilderstone Hall care home as normal on April 24, but the following morning she felt sick. At first she was reluctant to go to hospital, but her daughter called for an ambulance and she was taken to Stafford Hospital’s A&E.

Medics initially thought Miss Kavanagh could be suffering from bacterial meningitis, but a CT scan revealed no bleeding to her brain and her X ray results were also clear. Suspecting viral meningitis, medics prescribed her antibiotics.

She was taken to the hospital’s critical care unit, but her condition deteriorated and she passed away at 9.42pm that night.

Her death was so unexpected that doctors were at first unable to give a cause of death.

Pathologist Dr Hiam Ali told the inquest that the bacteria which proved fatal to Miss Kavanagh was discovered in a blood sample taken shortly after Miss Kavanagh arrival at hospital, before she was given antibiotics.

“She had antibiotics (in hospital) which worked on the bacteria but unfortunately the damage was already done,” Dr Ali said. “Her blood was full of bacteria and organisms.”

“Capnocytophaga canimorsus, an organism present in dog saliva, normally doesn’t cause damage. But in people without a spleen it can cause death due to septic shock.”

A “very small” cut was found on Miss Kavanagh’s hand, Dr Ali added. But it would have been expected that the penicillin she regularly took would have protected her from the bacteria entering her bloodstream and Dr Ali was unsure why it had not.

South Staffordshire Coroner Andrew Haigh recorded a narrative verdict that Miss Kavanagh died from “splenectomy and dog saliva in bloodstream”.

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