LIFESTYLE

Heartbreaking Photo Shows Wife Clinging To Dying Husband After Meningitis Misdiagnosed As 'Man Flu'

13/08/2015 12:51 BST | Updated 13/08/2015 13:59 BST

A woman has released a heartbreaking photo showing her clutching the man she loved, just hours before he passed away.

Mthuthuzeli Mpongwana, 38, was lost his life to meningitis after he waited six hours for an ambulance and had his symptoms dismissed as man flu.

Two days after Mpongwana was taken to hospital, his wife made the heart-wrenching decision to turn off his life-support.

A coroner has ruled that he died because of a "failure" by medics.

mthuthuzeli mpongwana and wife

Lisa clutches Mthuthuzeli just hours before his death.

Before the ordeal unfolded, Mpongwana complained he was feeling feverish with a headache and was having problems looking at bright lights.

His concerned wife Lisa Armitage, 27, called the emergency services around 10.30pm for some advice and a clinician called back to warn it could be meningitis.

Worried, Lisa was told to wait outside for a rapid response vehicle but it took three hours for paramedic Dana Noriega to arrive and carry out an assessment.

The paramedic told them that Mpongwana "just had man flu" and didn't need to go to A&E. He added that there were "no ambulances available".

Mthuthuzeli waited until 3.50am before the paramedic labelled the case a priority and it took a further 40 minutes for the ambulance to arrive. But he suffered a seizure, his brain shut down and he died.

A coroner has now said that Mthuthuzeli was failed by medics.

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Meningitis Symptoms: The Warning Signs And What To Do Next

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Meningitis is an infection of the protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. It causes these membranes, called the meninges, to become inflamed which in some cases can damage the nerves and brain.

Symptoms include a high fever, vomiting, drowsiness, severe muscle pain, a distinctive rash that doesn't fade when a glass is rolled over it, and an aversion to looking at bright lights.

According to the NHS, "the rash can be harder to see on dark skin, in which case check for spots on paler areas like the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, on the tummy, inside the eyelids and on the roof of the mouth".

Story continues below...

Meningitis Symptoms

Senior coroner Maria Voisin attributed the death to natural causes and inappropriate care given by paramedic Noriega.

Voisin told the inquest at Avon Coroners Court his death was the result of the paramedic's failure to call for urgent back up and administer penicillin.

A consultant at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, where Mpongwana died, said that if he had been taken to hospital sooner the outcome "could have been different".

Devastated widow Lisa - who released an image of her cradling her husband on his death bed - said she was "baffled" at the care he was given.

Voisin said: "Mthuthuzeli Mpongwana died from natural causes contributed to by the failure to take appropriate action in the face of an obvious need. At 1.50 hours on January 6 P1 (15 minute) back up should have been requested and benzylpenicillin should have been administered.

"The inappropriate care which was given resulted in a missed opportunity for medical treatment to be given to Mthuthuzeli Mpongwana."

man dies from meningitis

Lisa and Mthuthuzeli.

His devastated "soulmate" Lisa gave permission for his life support machine to be turned off on 7 January, the inquest heard.

She later released a heart-wrenching photo of her cradling him as he died in hospital.

Dr Dan Freshwater-Turner explained how antibiotics should have been given to Mpongwana as soon as possible. He said it was possible that, if treatment was given earlier, the outcome could have been different.

Lisa, 28, told the inquest that paramedic Noriega had told them Mpongwana "just had man flu" and didn't need to go to A&E.

She said she noticed that the paramedic looked "shattered" when he arrived - and Noriega confirmed to the court that he had been "exhausted" after working over the busy Christmas period.

Speaking after the inquest, Lisa, 28, said: "I would like to thank the coroner for a thorough investigation into my husband's death and it has helped me gain a better understanding as to what happened in the hours leading up to his death.

"Mthuthuzeli and I had just settled into our new life in the UK together and he had just started applying for jobs.

"When he died I was working as a theatre assistant at St Michael's Hospital but have not been able to return to work as I find it too distressing seeing people having surgery as it reminds me of watching my husband lying motionless on a life support machine.

"I am extremely concerned about the treatment he received by the ambulance staff and I was baffled at the time that they didn't seem to be taking into consideration his symptoms and the urgency of his situation."

She added: "I am still amazed now that the paramedics took such a long time to realise the red flag symptoms of meningitis that Mthuthuzeli was experiencing and it took them six hours to send an ambulance.

"It is incredibly well known that you have to act quickly if someone starts to suffer from symptoms of meningitis and his death could have been avoided if they had taken the care and attention to give him the medical care he rightly deserved."

meningitis death

Lisa and Mthuthuzeli.

Julie Lewis, specialist medical negligence lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, representing Lisa, said: "This was a tragic case where a man needlessly lost his life because of errors by medical staff which could and should have been avoided.

"Lisa repeatedly told the paramedic about Mthuthuzeli's symptoms and his declining condition and he was displaying all the classic and typical symptoms of meningitis.

"Worryingly the paramedic dismissed her pleas for help and ignored the seriousness of his condition when he should have received urgent medical care.

"The family would like reassurances by the Trust to ensure that all their staff are fully trained to notice and diagnose the symptoms of meningitis to prevent anyone else suffering from any similar issues."

Lisa told the inquest her husband fell ill as she went out shopping at an Asda near their home in Bedminster, Bristol on 5 January.

She said: "I remember that the paramedic checked him and told him he just had man flu and that we didn't need to go to A&E. At no point during any of the examination did the paramedic check for a rash or carry out a detailed observation."

The inquest heard he was showing all of the "red flags" of meningitis, but Noriega didn't identify the patient as being in urgent need of emergency care.

The paramedic told the inquest he gave the case a less urgent rating not because he did not recognise the seriousness of the patient's condition.

Noriega said: "Sometimes we have to try and think on our feet. I had been told that there were no ambulances available."