British Girl Starved After Teeth Pulled
Jill Lawless / AP
February 10, 2009
LONDON — When 8-year-old Sophie Waller cracked a baby tooth eating candy, it set off a chain of events that led to her death.
Sophie had such a fear of dentists that she refused to open her mouth for examination, so doctors at her local hospital took out the tooth in an operation. One of the medical team told a coroner’s inquest that they removed all seven of her other baby teeth at the same time to avoid the need for future procedures.
After the surgery Sophie refused to eat or even open her mouth for her parents, the couple told the inquest. But she was sent home anyway, and starved to death three weeks after the operation.
“No one saw her after she was discharged from hospital,” mother Janet Waller said. “I told (a child psychologist) she was sucking on a watermelon, she told me that was enough for her to survive on.”
The parents said the hospital mishandled Sophie’s follow-up care, referring them to a child psychologist who told them not to worry about Sophie’s plummeting weight. Janet Waller said she also was told to consult her family doctor, who prescribed nutrition drinks over the phone but did not see the girl in person.
Pediatric pathologist Dr. Marie-Ann Brundler said Sophie died at home on Dec. 2, 2005 from kidney failure caused by starvation and dehydration. The inquest was told Sophie weighed 72 pounds (33 kilograms) when she went into hospital and lost a third of that weight before she died.
An official at The Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro, 250 miles (400 kilometers) southwest of London, said there had been failures in Sophie’s care, and it had changed its procedures.
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“The impact of Sophie’s death has been a wide-ranging impact across all of the disciplines that were involved,” John Ellis, a pediatrician at the hospital, told the inquest. “There have been changes.”
The hospital said it would not comment further until the end of the inquest, which was continuing Tuesday to establish the facts behind the girl’s death.
Janet Waller told the inquest in Truro that Sophie had developed a fear of dentists after her tongue was nipped during a checkup, and had refused to let a dentist look at her loose tooth.
“Because Sophie would not open her mouth for examination, I wanted to eliminate any further dental problems,” Tamsin Hearle, a specialist in pediatric dentistry, was quoted as saying by The Times newspaper.