Devoted mum suffering crippling pain died from ‘accidental’ overdose

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Elspeth Stewart
Bournemouth Town Hall where the inquest was heard

A DEVOTED Christchurch mother who battled crippling daily pain died after unintentionally taking an overdose of her medication, a coroner ruled.

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Elspeth Stewart (40) suffered with severe fibromyalgia syndrome (FMS) and was found unresponsive by her long-term partner, Darren Headley, at their Purewell flat on 14th November last year, Bournemouth Coroners’ Court heard.

Paramedics were called but she was pronounced dead.

The inquest was told Ms Stewart, a mother of three, had been “outgoing” and led an “active life” until she was diagnosed seven years ago with FMS – a chronic condition causing pain, stiffness, and tenderness of the muscles, tendons, and joints.

Subsequently she lost confidence, became agoraphobic and suffered with depression and anxiety. In the months before she died Ms Stewart often “isolated” herself in her room at home, the hearing was told.

Ms Stewart was on various types of pain-relief medication and anti-depressants and was paid home visits by GPs from the Christchurch Medical Practice.

During one such visit in June a GP reported Ms Stewart said she was low in mood, feeling “hopeless” and wondering if her family would be better off without her.

Ms Stewart was referred to an NHS support service but when that could not help the community mental health team got involved. However, two phone calls to her home were unanswered.

GPs revisited her treatment and paid another home visit, when Ms Stewart assured medics that she would not commit suicide because of her love for her children.

She was referred to the pain clinic and a follow-up call was scheduled – however, it was made after she died.

Mr Headley told the inquest it was “usual” for Ms Stewart to sleep most of the day before waking up to spend the evening helping care for her children. She would remain awake most of the night.

He said on the day in question he did the school run before returning after 4pm to cook the children’s tea. He checked in on her and after 5pm and she was fine, although asleep.

But when he checked again after 6pm she was on the floor of the bedroom unresponsive, so he called 999 and carried out CPR.

She had not got up or taken any medication while he was in the house, he said, and there had been no indication she was thinking of taking her own life. No suicide notes were discovered.

Sgt Luke Sands confirmed Dorset Police investigated but found nothing suspicious. The pathologist Dr Robert Blahut said Ms Stewart died of an overdose from combined medication.

Coroner Brendan Allen said he had to decide on the “balance of probability” if the evidence demonstrated Ms Stewart deliberately intended to take her own life.

Reaching a conclusion of death by misadventure, Mr Allen said: “It’s most likely or more than likely that Ms Stewart died as an unintended consequences of her actions,” noting she was “devoted” to her children.

“She took more medication than was prescribed, it’s likely she had been experiencing severe pain as she did with her condition. She probably did [take the medication] at some point in the afternoon when Darren Headley was out of the address.”

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