In April 2011 Kerry-Lee McCloskey was brimming with excitement about plans for her 18th birthday party - but within weeks she was dead and no one could explain why.
The shock death of the 17 year-old Derry student on May 10, left doctors, consultants and her family “dumbfounded”, her mother Eileen told the ‘Journal’. However it wasn’t until last week that the truth about what happened to the Galliagh teenager finally came out at an inquest into her death.
One of 14 children, Kerry-Lee was the youngest girl in the McCloskey household and her loss “left a terrible void” in the family home at Ederowen Park. “We were all so close, it was very hard, it still is,” her mother Eileen said.
“For long enough I put her dinner out, I called her name - you just don’t think.”
Kerry-Lee was a girl who knew what she wanted from life but tragedy struck in the form of an illness so rare it would have been impossible for medical staff at Altnagelvin Hospital to diagnose, the inquest into her death heard.
“She was a student at the North West Regional College, studying childcare, we got her results the day after she died, she passed her exams,” her mum recalled.
Kerry, who was “the apple of her daddy’s eye” already had her 18th birthday party planned, despite the fact it was months away on June 21.
In April, she started complaining of a pain in her shoulder and back.
“She rubbed it with deep heat thinking it was just a muscle spasm. This went on for about two weeks until she started getting really sore,” said her mum.
“I told her get an appointment with the doctor and she was later admitted to hospital with suspected pneumonia.
After three days, Kerry-Lee was discharged, but a little over a week later she fell very ill. “We took her to hospital on Good Friday and they said the pneumonia was still there. They drained her lung and told her she would get out after the weekend but after visiting time that night her markers went really high and the next morning she went into cardiac arrest.
“They tried to resuscitate her but it was too late.
“We didn’t know what had happened her, we were dumbfounded.”
Eileen and her shell-shocked family were angry, devastated and bewildered. Her father suffered a heart attack days later and had emergency surgery.
“I was very angry at the time. I remember the consultant sent me a wee card a year later on Kerry-Lee’s anniversary, to tell me how sorry she was that it had happened. I thought it’s too late now, my daughter’s away.”
However, Eileen feels different after hearing the findings of experts. “At the inquest I found that it was the consultant who had pushed to find out what happened to Kerry-Lee. I was really annoyed then with myself because I had blamed her. I asked to see her and we got talking.
“The two of us were very emotional. She said she was sorry that she couldn’t have done more but that they didn’t know what it was. At the inquest we were told that she did everything by the book and nothing could have changed the outcome.”
Kerry-Lee had Wegener’s Granulomatosis, a rare condition which affects the immune system is normally found in middle aged or older people, the inquest at Coleraine courthouse was told by Dr David Edgar, a consultant with the Regional Immunology Service for Northern Ireland.
Coroner John Leckey said the cause of Kerry-Lee’s death had been pneumonia in association with Wegener’s Granulomatosis. He noted that in Dr Edgar’s opinion it would have been impossible for the staff at the hospital to have diagnosed her. “We didn’t know any of this until we went to the courthouse,” Eileen said. It was very difficult to sit and listen to all the detail.
“It was heartbreaking but I feel better now knowing what happened and that nothing could have been done. It was first night I slept all night since - both me and her daddy,” she added.
The following day Eileen was back in hospital to visit another daughter.
This time it was a joyous occasion as she welcomed new life to the world in the form of her 12th grandchild, “a lovely baby boy called Daniel”.