A fit and healthy mother died while holidaying in Greece with her family after eating just one mouthful of uncooked chicken.
Natalie Rawnsley, 37, was on holiday with husband Stewart and her two young sons when she was struck down with food poisoning, an inquest heard.
Westminster Coroner’s Court heard that Natalie, from Harpenden, Herts, rapidly deteriorated in just 36 hours after consuming the chicken at a hotel restaurant.
The fit and healthy triathlete died after blood clots formed all over her body and blocked the vessels. Husband Stewart Rawnsley said that his wife lay bleeding from every orifice in a hospital bed in Corfu as his insurance company insisted she should not be moved to the mainland.
The coroner heard the Rawnsley family left for the Greek island of Corfu on 13 August last year and were just beginning their second week when tragedy struck. Mr Rawnsley said: “The hotel had two or three restaurants. It was a buffet or restaurant and we had all four of us eating together. “
The set up Natalie and I had agreed was we took it in turns alternatively either to go up and get the kids food and our food while the other joined the longer queue for nicer food. “I had both my boys with me, we had pasta, bread and sausages. Natalie had a completely different dinner which consisted of chicken, salad, prawns and vegetables.
“We were already at the table when Natalie came back with her food. Natalie started to eat hers and as she cut the chicken the chicken oozed red blood to which point I commented it looked bloody. “She got up took it back replaced the chicken with a different piece and came back and ate it.
“She had had a few mouthfuls of the other piece of chicken.” Natalie’s husband said his wife had complained that evening of feeling unwell, but had not said anything specific about how she felt ill. He was woken at 3am when Natalie started throwing up in the hotel bathroom. He told the inquest “The doctor came at around 7am. After he diagnosed gastroenteritis at that point he told us to separate - to stop me and the kids catching it. I took the kids for breakfast, took them for a swim. “At 11am I came back to check on her. She was still being sick and asked me to go back to the doctors and get more assistance. “The second doctor said because she had been sick for so long she needed additional medical help so she was going to the medical centre a number of kilometres away from the hotel.
“An ambulance arrived at around 1pm. I was aware she had been moved from the medical centre to the Corfu hospital in the early evening by text message. “At 11pm in the evening the first doctor - who saw her at 7am - he knocked on my door and explained that I needed to get dressed and I needed to come to the hospital quickly.
“I thought my wife was going to be home in the morning. “The hospital was on the other side of the island about 70km away from my memory. The A&E department was empty. “My wife was down the end of the room surrounded by about eight people. “She was fully awake and aware, and happy to see me, but obviously distressed and concerned. “There was pain in her legs and she had also had a number of red blotches all over her.” The inquest heard that a nurse, who said she was the head of international medicine, said they wanted to fly Natalie to a hospital on the mainland, which had better facilities. As Natalie’s brother and niece arrived, her relatives gathered around her as she lay unconscious in the makeshift intensive care unit, the inquest heard.
Stewart added: “At around 1pm her brother and I notice her heart monitor was getting weaker and it continued. “I screamed out and her brother screamed out. Medical assistance arrived and we were removed from the room. “We were outside the door and they were in there five or ten minutes and then the same nurse came out and apologised as there wasn’t anything more she could do, and Natalie died.” The inquest heard that although Natalie, a stay at home mum, was fit and healthy, the probability of contracting the more serious illness from food poisoning depends entirely on your genes.
Infections expert Professor Sebastien Lucas said: “It depends on what your genes are. It seems like Mrs Rawsley had the wrong genes - to put it crudely. “Assuming it is an E-Coli infection - coming from uncooked chicken seems a very reasonable theory.
“The point I also made in my report is how it escalates. “There’s a tipping point when it starts producing DIC. By definition, once it starts doing that, you are doomed. “It’s a very rapid process and so the chronology I heard from Mr Rawnsley fits to a ‘t’ with that view. “If they start saying I feel very unwell, and this is anecdotal, but within a day they are dead.” Professor Lucas confirmed that not much can be done once infection sets in. He said Natalie was the third person he had seen die under these circumstances so far this year. Dr Athanasia Vargiamidou (double corr) performed the post-mortem on Natalie when her body was repratriated from Greece. She said: “The blood was not able to clot properly, it clotted a lot and at the same time.” Asked if the case presented as a ‘classic case of serious food poisoning’
Dr Vargiamido replied: “Yes. I was kind of thinking something along those lines.” Assistant Coroner Dr Shirley Radcliffe said: “There isn’t a magic cure for it. Uncooked chicken is a known to be a source of E-Coli.”
The coroner recorded a verdict of death by the accidental consumption of E-Coli infected chicken. She concluded: “I think it seems very clear-cut. The most common infection that causes this condition is E-Coli. “It all fits together with her having contracted from uncooked chicken which is a source of this infection.
“The timeline fits very well with her having developed initially gastroenteritis but then this additional condition DIC that certain individuals can develop. “We have to consider its very patient-specific, some patients will be susceptible to this and some will not. “There’s nothing anyone can do to reverse it.”