The tragic death of a popular Chorley teenager may be linked to swine flu.
That was the assessment of a consultant pathologist who gave evidence at the inquest into the sudden death of Mark Bottomley.
The deputy headboy at Southlands High School was found collapsed in bed just days before he was set to celebrate his 16th birthday with proud parents Paul and Sue. The sporty youngster had been complaining of flu-like symptoms over the Christmas period, but had texted his friends to tell them he was ‘feeling much better’ in the days before his shock death on December 30.
Giving evidence at the hour-long hearing at Preston Coroner’s Court on Thursday, Dr Mark Pitt described how tests had showed that the ‘lovable’ teenager’s heart had been severely damaged after his body had battled an ‘unknown’ virus.
He said: “There was only really one finding in the post mortem and that was the heart which appeared to be abnormal in appearance and was swollen and inflamed.
“In view of that finding, I felt it was necessary to take small tissue samples. They showed that Mark had suffered severe myocarditis.”
The condition is often caused by an infection due to a virus, and although no traces of swine flu were found in Mark’s body, Dr Pitt said that appeared to be the most obvious cause.
He added: “Given the history of the flu-like symptoms and, as we all know swine flu was prevalent at that time, I decided to take viral swabs.
“The lungs appeared to be normal, and the tests did return negative for influenza and other viruses, but that’s not to say it hadn’t been present, as the body may have been successful in clearing it.”
Mark’s parents, who live in Doris Street, told the hearing that they had been ‘beating themselves up’ ever since their only child’s death and they wanted to know whether they could have done anything to prevent it?
However, Dr Pitt said it would have been almost impossible for even a trained specialist to diagnose the condition and said that his death was a complete tragedy.
He added: “This was a very, very rare complication and I cannot prove that it was down to swine flu, but that was certainly the most prevalent virus at the time of Mark’s death.
“Usually the complication would appear in the lungs – it is very rare to be found in the heart.
“There was nothing that could have been done and nobody could have predicted what would happen.
“The condition tends to be more common in younger people, but I have only dealt with two or three cases in my long career and none have been connected to swine flu.”
Dr Pitt went on to reassure Mark’s distraught family that he would have died in his sleep and not felt any pain.
“This was a tragedy that was totally unpredictable,” he said. “It is not anyone’s fault and nothing more could have been done.”
His inconsolable family gently held each other as details of the post mortem were read out.
They said they would never be able to understand why the fit and talented youngster had died so young, leaving a huge void in their lives.
Deputy coroner Simon Jones said: “The verdict I have to record is one of death by natural causes, but I understand it is not natural for a boy of 15 to die in these circumstances. I am conscious of how empty these words may seem, but I am sorry you have had to come here under these circumstances.”
For the full story, see this week’s Chorley Guardian.