A man who suffered from a peanut allergy collapsed and died from severe anaphylactic shock less than an hour after receiving treatment for his allergy from an alternative medicine practitioner.
Dublin Coroner's Court yesterday heard that Thomas Schatten (43), of Marina Village, Malahide, Co Dublin, collapsed and died in the living room of his home on the evening of May 18, 2005.
He had earlier been treated for the peanut allergy by kinesiologist Dr Brett Stevens, who told the inquest that Mr Schatten ate a small bit of peanut during his appointment, to which he had no reaction.
The allergy elimination technique used by Dr Stevens, who is also a chiropractor, is called NAET and involves "muscle testing". The inquest heard that Mr Schatten, an editor and writer, had received the treatment on four previous occasions for his peanut allergy and suffered no ill effects.
Following the treatment, Mr Schatten, who had experienced two anaphylactic reactions in the past, went to the bathroom and Dr Stevens, upon hearing coughing coming from the toilet, asked Mr Schatten if he was all right. Mr Schatten, who suffered from asthma, said he had a bit of a cough and that his chest was tight and indicated he wanted to go home to get his medication for asthma.
He left the clinic at 5.20pm. Dr Stevens told the court he didn't think Mr Schatten was having an anaphylactic reaction. He said he was aware that he had suffered a reaction to peanuts when he was young and avoided them prior to beginning the treatment.
About 15 minutes later, Dr Stevens rang Mr Schatten to make sure he was all right. Mr Schatten could only say the words "breathing" and "ambulance".
After arranging for an ambulance to be called, Dr Stevens made his way to Mr Schatten's apartment. He found him lying on the ground with laboured breathing. He suffered a cardiac arrest on the way to Beaumont Hospital and was pronounced dead at 6.55pm. A post mortem found he had died of an acute hypersensitivity reaction or anaphylactic reaction to peanut.
Professor of histopathology at the Royal College of Surgeons and at Beaumont Hospital, Mary Leader, told the inquest that in (allopathic) medicine such desensitisation would not be carried out without strict supervision in a hospital where drugs, IV access, oxygen and a doctor were immediately available and she said no person should be tested for nut allergy without these. "If a patient has an acute anaphylactic reaction like this they are immediately treated with drugs to stop the reaction," she said.
She said the coughing and tightening of chest Mr Schatten experienced are symptoms associated with an allergic response. The court heard there was an approximate 35-minute time lapse between the ambulance being called and arriving, due to a shortage of ambulances.
There were no suspicious circumstances, Garda Shay McGrath said.
He said he believed the death was accidental and Dr Stevens was attempting to alleviate the allergy using the methods he used. A file went to the DPP in relation to the death.
Coroner Brian Farrell recorded a verdict of death by misadventure and called for the re-evaluation of the NAET allergy elimination technique in relation to peanut allergies.
"Nut allergy is a particular situation. All the clinicians I spoke to said assessment of nut allergy needs to be dealt with guardedly," he said. "This is the second inquest in the coroner's court in the last three months where a person has died of peanut allergy. It emphasises the seriousness of peanut allergy."