MOURNING: John Curnow of Lismore lost his wife Barbara a few hours after she was discharged from Lismore Base Hospital.
MOURNING: John Curnow of Lismore lost his wife Barbara a few hours after she was discharged from Lismore Base Hospital. Patrick Gorbunovs

Woman released from hospital, dead six hours later

ON THE afternoon of December 20 last year, Lismore man John Curnow helped his sick wife Barbara to her bed after she was discharged from Lismore Base Hospital.

Six hours later, on a routine check of her condition, Mr Curnow discovered his wife had died.

It was a tragic ending to a five-year journey which has left Mr Curnow frustrated and angry with health authorities.

Mrs Curnow was suffering from incurable throat cancer, diagnosed in 2011, and had received chemotherapy several weeks before her admission on December 4 for a chest infection.

She needed medical therapy to manage substantial bleeding from the tumour in her throat, while the chemotherapy had caused a potentially fatal blood clot in her arm.

Despite these acute conditions, she was discharged on December 20.

"I got her on to the bed, went to check on her every hour and at 10pm she was deceased," Mr Curnow said.

"She was weak, she was terribly weak.

"I don't think anyone should be discharged under those conditions."

Mr Curnow, a veterinarian of 34 years who spent a decade researching tick fever in cattle for the Department of Primary Industries said he believed his wife's death was because of complications from Lyme disease, which she had first shown signs of in 2008.

He has complained to NSW Health about a lack of assistance in treating the disease - still not acknowledged as existing in Australia despite hundreds of people claiming the contrary.

It can cause a myriad of symptoms ranging from depression to heart failure.

In a letter responding to Mr Curnow's complaint about the discharge, the then-acting executive director of the Richmond Clarence Health Services Group Wayne Jones said her death so soon after discharge was "not expected" but "perhaps not surprising" given the extent of her illness.

Mr Jones said the presence of Lyme disease would not have prevented her discharge.

"We do not believe that any further medical intervention would have altered the outcome," Mr Jones wrote.

Executive director of the Richmond Clarence Health Service Group, Lynne Weir, confirmed that Mr Curnow had met with Lismore Base Hospital management to discuss his concerns and the hospital had also responded to his concerns in a letter, but said she was unable to comment because of NSW Health patient confidentiality guidelines.

Ms Weir said: "The current position is that there is little evidence to support either locally acquired Lyme disease or overseas-acquired Lyme disease."


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