Tragedy strikes for Harpenden mum who died after eating raw chicken in Corfu
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A healthy Harpenden mum died on holiday after eating just one mouthful of uncooked chicken, an inquest has heard.
Westminster Coroner’s Court heard that Natalie Rawnsley, 37, was in her second week on holiday in Corfu last August with her husband Stewart and two young sons when she was served raw chicken at the hotel restaurant.
She had already taken a bite of the meat before noticing it was bloody and swapping it for a different piece.
That night Natalie rapidly deteriorated and by 3am she was vomiting in the hotel toilet.
Just 36 hours later, Natalie was in hospital, suffering from multiple blood clots blocking her vessels (DIC).
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Stewart said his insurance company insisted she should not be moved to the mainland where there are better facilities, even though a nurse thought that was the best course of action.
Stewart said: “I had both my boys with me, we had pasta, bread and sausages. Natalie had a completely different dinner which consisted of chicken, salad, prawns and vegetables.
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“We were already at the table when Natalie came back with her food. Natalie started to eat hers and as she cut the chicken, the chicken oozed red blood to which point I commented it looked bloody.
“She got up, took it back, replaced the chicken with a different piece and came back and ate it. She had had a few mouthfuls of the other piece of chicken.”
It was clear by 11am an initial diagnosis of gastroenteritis was not sufficient and by 1pm she had been taken to hospital.
Stewart told the inquest he travelled to the hospital at about 11pm but expected her back in the morning: “The hospital was on the other side of the island about 70km away from my memory. The A&E department was empty.
“My wife was down the end of the room surrounded by about eight people. She was fully awake and aware, and happy to see me, but obviously distressed and concerned.
“There was pain in her legs and she had also had a number of red blotches all over her.”
As Natalie’s brother and niece arrived, her relatives gathered around her as she lay unconscious in the makeshift intensive care unit.
Stewart added: “At around 1pm [the next day] her brother and I notice her heart monitor was getting weaker and it continued.
“I screamed out and her brother screamed out. Medical assistance arrived and we were removed from the room.
“We were outside the door and they were in there five or ten minutes and then the same nurse came out and apologised as there wasn’t anything more she could do, and Natalie died.”
The inquest heard that although Natalie, a stay at home mum and triathlete, was fit and healthy, the probability of contracting the more serious illness from food poisoning depends entirely on your genes.
Infections expert Professor Sebastien Lucas said: “It depends on what your genes are. It seems like Mrs Rawsley had the wrong genes - to put it crudely.
“Assuming it is an E-Coli infection - coming from uncooked chicken seems a very reasonable theory. The point I also made in my report is how it escalates.
“There’s a tipping point when it starts producing DIC. By definition, once it starts doing that, you are doomed.
“It’s a very rapid process and so the chronology I heard from Mr Rawnsley fits to a ‘t’ with that view. If they start saying I feel very unwell, and this is anecdotal, but within a day they are dead.”
Professor Lucas confirmed that not much can be done once infection sets in.
He said Natalie was the third person he had seen die under these circumstances so far this year.
Dr Athanasia Vargiamidou performed the post-mortem on Natalie when her body was repatriated from Greece.
Assistant Coroner Dr Shirley Radcliffe said: “There isn’t a magic cure for it. Uncooked chicken is a known to be a source of E-Coli.”
The coroner recorded a verdict of death by the accidental consumption of E-Coli infected chicken.
She concluded: “I think it seems very clear-cut. The most common infection that causes this condition is E-Coli.
“It all fits together with her having contracted from uncooked chicken which is a source of this infection.
“The timeline fits very well with her having developed initially gastroenteritis but then this additional condition DIC that certain individuals can develop.
“We have to consider it’s very patient-specific, some patients will be susceptible to this and some will not.
“There’s nothing anyone can do to reverse it.”