Ken and Patricia, Laura’s parents met at work. Speaking to them they described themselves as one unit, not really having their own separate lives, they’re been pretty inseparable ever since meeting. They very much looked forward to having a family. Laura was something of a miracle baby, after 10 years of trying. Patricia and Ken lost three babies before Laura, one at 7.5 months, one at 5 months and one at 3 months. Patricia then had two rounds of IVF before they eventually gave up on their hopes of a family.
That’s when Laura came along. Born just before lunch on 14 December 1994, a week late, on the day Patricia was due to be induced. Ken chuckles and tells me how Laura arrived on her terms, and everything with Laura was on her terms, she started as she meant to go on.
It’s a real pleasure talking to Ken and Patricia, they radiate joy when talking about Laura. She realised their family dreams and she was absolutely perfect. Patricia shares how it was a pleasure to look after Laura, life is much harder without her.
Ken and Patricia both comment, almost in unison, that they’d “do it all again, we loved her, it was so easy to love Laura”. This is another theme, Laura loved people and people loved Laura. There was clearly a lot of love.
Ken and Patricia recall a cheeky character, always playing tricks on people, hiding a jigsaw piece under her bum in her wheelchair before whipping it out at the end to complete it herself.
Ken and Patricia describe family holidays to Cleethorpes, Mablethorpe, Withernsea, Blackpool. They stayed in hotels and caravans and each year people would remember Laura, especially market traders who knew her as a connoisseur of handbags and a reliable repeat customer.
“Fun, fun, fun all the time… keeping her happy was the main thing” Ken and Patricia had a simple approach to family life, the focus was on giving Laura a happy life. They didn’t force her, there was no way to force her, she knew her mind and did things on her terms.
Laura was keen to learn. She attended a special school, and was taught by hospital teachers on her stays in hospital. She had her own form of communication, a blend of Makaton, some speech and judicious use of blowing raspberries if she didn’t agree or want something.
Patricia describes Laura as a “shop till you drop girl”. Ken recalls visiting the same shops day after day on holiday, and Patricia remembers how she’d rub her hands together with glee if they were going shopping. There was never any difficulty persuading her to shop.
Laura liked to help her parents with house work, dusting, packing shopping away, drying dishes, and prepping food. She particularly liked podding peas and peeling carrots and potatoes. Laura loved her food. She developed food intolerances and diabetes but still loved food.
Once Laura developed diabetes she gave up snacks, not liking how they affected her blood sugar levels. However as a young child she loved chocolate buttons and had an uncanny knack of directing adults to the shops that sold them.
Laura liked all fruit except oranges. She liked vegetables, salad, jacket spuds, fish, toast and cereals. They’d often go to Whitby for fish and chips, which Laura loved. She’d have fish without batter, preferring to eat it in a box in the car, rather than going into the chipper.
They went for fish and chips on the Saturday before Laura went into hospital, what would turn out to be their final meal out as a family together. Something they never could have foreseen given Laura was going in for eye surgery on a corneal ulcer.
Laura went into hospital on 25 September 2016 for what her parents believed to be routine eye surgery. She never received the surgery, her potassium levels were too low.
What followed was 3.5 weeks of what her parents describe as Laura, and them, being invisible. They feel no-one took responsibility for decisions about Laura’s care, especially relating to nutrition. They felt Laura and they weren’t listened to.
Laura’s parents also have concerns the adult hospital wasn’t equipped to care for someone of Laura’s petite frame and size. Laura’s notes had not been transferred to the adult hospital when she transitioned. They’d always had excellent care at Sheffield Childrens Hospital.
In the Royal Hallamshire Hospital they were left to sleep on chairs or the floor, they felt they were viewed as a nuisance. Initially told they should leave Laura alone, they refused, having never left her side in hospital for the previous 21 years.
Laura’s inquest starts on Monday. Her parents want to know what happened. They’re desperate that the hospital, and the NHS more broadly, to learn from the mistakes they feel cost Laura, and cost too many other learning disabled people, their lives.
Asked what changes they’d like: hospital staff to listen to learning disabled people, to their families…. and that they stop people having their lives cut so short
“It’s not right, it’s just not fair, it’s not human”.
Laura was a much loved and longed for daughter who completed our family, when she died a part of us died with her. Laura loved people and people loved Laura. She communicated using Makaton, actions, gestures, a few words and considered use of blowing raspberries. Laura was very able to make decisions, and ensure her views and opinions were known. Laura lived life on her terms, and we were only too happy to support her to do so. She brought so much joy to our lives.
The full statement is here and linked above
Laura’s inquest would not have happened without the intervention of Jayne McCubbin, journalist at BBC Breakfast.
"We went to hospital with our daughter for an eye operation and came out with a death certificate."
Concerns malnutrition contributed to the death of Laura, who had disabilities.@BBCBreakfast shared concerns with a coroner who has now ordered an inquest. #BBCSend pic.twitter.com/2z4K9cwu86
— BBC Breakfast (@BBCBreakfast) February 15, 2018