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Diabetic mother died due to her low blood sugar
Published 05/08/13



A DIABETIC died after suffering abnormally low levels of blood sugar, an inquest heard.

Claire Armitage, 27, was found lying face-down in bed at her home in Farleigh Mews, Caversham Park Village, by her mother Jane.

Paramedics and police were called but the brownie leader was pronounced dead at the scene.

The mother-of-two was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 15 and had been fitted with an insulin pump on her hip in April last year after a history of hypoglycaemic attacks, Reading Coroner’s Court heard on Tuesday.

The attacks resulted from low glucose in the blood and the pump, which replaced the usual method of injections, automatically administered insulin based on her food intake.


Berkshire coroner Peter Bedford recorded a narrative verdict in which he said an analysis of data downloaded from the pump provided “compelling evidence” that Ms Armitage had died following another hypoglycaemic attack.

He said: “There was no apparent malfunction in the operation of the pump itself, nor in its use by Claire herself.”

The coroner read out a statement by Ms Armitage’s estranged husband Adam Swannell, the father of her children, Oliver and Daisy.

He said he had not been aware of any other episodes since the pump was fitted.

Mr Swannell said he had visited Ms Armitage at her home twice the day before she died and said she appeared to be her “fine, normal self” and didn’t mention any problems with the pump or her diabetes.

Ms Armitage’s mother said they had talked on the phone the same day.

Mrs Armitage, of Shiplake Bottom, Peppard, said: “She asked if I wanted to go with her to the shops the next afternoon. She sounded well and didn’t have any complaints.”

The next day, she made several calls to her daughter and left voice messages but did not receive a reply.

She became “extremely anxious” and decided to visit her daughter with her husband Jeff. She found Ms Armitage lying on her stomach in bed and said it was obvious she had been dead for some time.

Mrs Armitage said there was no sign of her daughter having suffered a hypoglycaemic attack. “When I found her she was lying on her stomach as if she had fallen asleep,” she said. “She must have been unable to raise the alarm.”

She added that her own research showed there had been deaths in Britain and America described as “dead in bed syndrome”, which referred to unexplained deaths in young people with type 1 diabetes who had gone to bed feeling fine. The coroner said some scientists believed hypoglycaemia could cause disturbances in the heart rhythm or the nerves but there were no conclusive theories.

A toxicology report found there was not a sustained high blood sugar level in Ms Armitage’s body and hypoglycaemia could not be ruled out.

Dr Gearoid Kingston, a consultant pathologist who carried out a post mortem examination, took 36 readings from the pump of Ms Armitage’s blood sugar and said 10 were below the normal level and nine were above.

He said four doses of insulin had been administered as she ate fish and chips and three snacks the previous night. This led to the fluctuation in her blood glucose, particularly the lower readings, and would have “inevitably” led to hypoglycaemia.

Dr Kingston said this may have resulted in a seizure, although there was no evidence of this, and Ms Armitage suffocated when she went into a coma.

“Maybe if she hadn’t found herself in the position of asphyxia she would have survived a little longer but it’s a mechanism caused by the hypoglycaemia and not the cause of death,” he said.

Dr Kingston said the information downloaded from the pump showed she had been monitoring her blood sugar level closely.

He said: “In a relatively short period of time, four doses of insulin is quite a lot. They are going to accumulate on top of each other. Snacking is a problem for type 1 diabetics and it would inevitably lead to a heavy chance of hypoglycaemia. Set meals are much easier to control with insulin rather than several meals.”

The coroner called Ms Armitage’s death a “tragic loss for someone so young”.

He said: “Claire took her insulin measurements and carbohydrate counts very seriously. It would not have prevented her from suffering hypoglycaemic attacks. Every person who is diabetic is different. There’s no single constant method that can be adopted.”

After the hearing, Mrs Armitage, a former chairwoman of Sonning Common Parish Council, said her daughter “didn’t have a chance”.

“She went into a coma and couldn’t do anything about it,” she said. “That’s why it’s such a nasty condition.”

Ms Armitage, who worked at the Co-operative Bank in Reading, was a former pupil of Sonning Common Primary and Chiltern Edge and Highdown Schools.

Published 05/08/13

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