Father blames medication and ‘arrogant doctors’ for death of his autistic son

The father of an autistic teenager who died after being prescribed antipsychotic medication has blamed the drug for his death and said his son would still be alive if “arrogant” doctors had listened to them.

Thomas Oliver McGowan, known as Oliver, who also suffered from epilepsy and learning difficulties, died at Bristol’s Southmead Hospital on November 11 2016.

An inquest into his death heard the 18-year-old was admitted to the hospital on October 22 that year having suffered from a seizure at home which did not end when he was given his regular medication.

In a statement which he read to Avon Coroner’s Court on Monday, Oliver’s father Tom McGowan said he and his wife Paula, and Oliver himself, repeatedly told paramedics and doctors that on “no account” was he to be given antipsychotic medication because he had reacted badly to it in the past.

Mr McGowan said despite this, doctors prescribed Olanzapine, an antipsychotic medication used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Afterwards, they noticed Oliver’s condition deteriorated and he started to suffer from more seizures before a brain scan found him to be suffering from brain damage.

He said: “We firmly believe that Oliver would not have died if he had not been administered Olanzapine.

“We are driven to conclude that the doctors were arrogant and felt they knew best and as a result prescribed an antipsychotic which Oliver and ourselves had expressly forbidden.

“We had sound reasoning for saying ‘no’ to the administration of Olanzapine, Oliver’s previous reaction to the drug in December 2015, but no matter how forcefully we relayed this to the doctors, we were ignored.”

Mr McGowan said he and his wife had been proved right in the “most tragic way possible”.

He added: “If Oliver had not been prescribed Olanzapine we believe he would be alive today, enjoying college and having a productive life.”

The inquest heard Oliver was born a month prematurely and developed bacterial meningitis, aged three weeks.

Mr McGowan said this early illness left Oliver with mild hemiplegia, focal seizure epilepsy and he was later diagnosed with mild autism but did not let his disabilities hold him back and had a “steely determination and a can do attitude”.

The inquest heard Oliver suffered from roughly one simple partial seizure per fortnight, during which he would be fully conscious.

Mr McGowan said the seizures frustrated Oliver because he had no control over them and would raise his level of anxiety and that he had previously been detained under the Mental Health Act for assessment but no evidence of psychosis had been found.

He said when they arrived in accident and emergency on October 22 he could see Oliver was “very scared and agitated”.

He said he spoke to the ward sister and asked her to make “reasonable adjustments” to adapt the environment, including by reducing the number of people speaking to Oliver at any one time, in order to take into account his autism and intellectual disability.

Of the nurse, he said: “She told us she would do her best to help (but) sadly this did not happen and no reasonable adjustments were made at all.”

Mr McGowan said at one point, before being intubated to treat the seizures, Oliver spoke to those treating him and said: “Please do not give me antipsychotics, I don’t like them, they mess with my brain.”

Mr McGowan told the coroner about conversations he and Mrs McGowan had a number of different doctors, each time explaining Oliver’s past reaction to antipsychotic medication, which included increased seizures.

He said they were “shocked” when they found out on October 26 that Oliver had been prescribed Olanzapine the previous evening and over the next few days they noticed “an increase in seizures” and a change in the type of seizures he was suffering from which were “alarmingly different”.

Mr McGowan said they became concerned that there was a problem with Oliver’s brain in the days that followed, potentially meningitis and asked for him to have a brain scan.

The inquest heard on October 30 a CT scan found Oliver was suffering from Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome (NMS) and he required life-saving surgery to alleviate swelling in his brain.

Mr McGowan said they watched their “once vibrant and active boy” deteriorate over the next week before being told that his prognosis was “appalling” and if he survived he would be profoundly disabled and would never walk again, would be blind and would have no recollection of past memories or language.

“Oliver had said he did not want to be any more disabled than he already was as he was living a good life,” he said, adding that on November 7 they agreed to life support being withdrawn.

Dr Luke Canham, a specialist registrar in neurology, who treated Oliver on the night he was admitted to Southmead Hospital, said he recalled speaking to Mr and Mrs McGowan and the latter handing him a folder containing details of his medical history.

He said: “I explained I would not be using antipsychotics.

“I made it very clear to my colleagues … both verbally and in typed correspondence about the concerns the family had about the use of antipsychotics.”

Anthony Metzer QC, for the McGowans, said the family did not just have “concerns” about the use of such drugs but had “expressly forbidden it”.

Dr Canham said: “Oliver’s parents were clear on the non-use of all antipsychotic medication.”

The inquest heard Dr Canham sent an email to a number of colleagues involved in, and later involved in, Oliver’s care.

In it he noted Oliver had a “number of intolerances not least all forms of antipsychotics”.

Dr Rosemary Bosnell, a neurology consultant, said she was aware that Oliver’s case was complex and it was important to look at his history.

She discussed his treatment on admission and said his initial positive reaction to epilepsy medication suggested that was the cause of his presentation.

She said she was aware of Dr Canham’s email and had also spoken to the McGowans and they told her their concerns about antipsychotic medication.

The inquest continues.

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