Monday 9 December 2019

Mountain climber who survived 40-metre fall died after later developing twisted bowel

A mountain climber appeared to have survived a 40-metre fall down a cliff with just broken bones but subsequently died after developing a twisted bowel, an inquest heard.

Joseph Reville (62), a teacher and father-of-three from Rushbrook Avenue, Templeogue in south Dublin, was rescued after falling from the cliff at Luggala in the Wicklow Mountains on August 24 last year.

He was taken to St Vincent’s Hospital where he was treated for breaks in both legs. Dublin Coroner’s Court heard that in the following days he developed severe stomach pain and it was discovered that his bowel had twisted. He died on August 30 just over 12 hours after undergoing corrective surgery.

Mr Reville, an experienced climber, had almost finished ascending the cliff when he fell. Co-climber Colm Peppard said Mr Reville had brought another climber, Eoghan O’Neill, up over the cliff edge first and then he followed. They were beset by clouds of midges as they climbed. When Mr Reville brought him up he told him to head on over to Mr O’Neill, he said.

He had gone passed Mr O’Neill when he was suddenly “catapulted” back, crashing into him. They realised that Mr Reville had fallen. Mr O’Neill called out to him and Mr Reville replied “faintly” that he had broken his legs. They called for help and a major mountain rescue operation was initiated with Mr Reville suspended in mid-air for a lengthy period before rescuers were able to get him down.

In her evidence, his wife Yvonne Reville said that he told her he “could not believe” Mr Peppard had not anchored him in. When this was put to Mr Peppard, he said be believed Mr O'Neill was doing this and that less than “three minutes had elapsed” before he was “flying through the air”. Referring to Mr Reville he said: “He is the leader, he picked the position, he called the shots. We were just unaware that he was making that move unprotected when he did".

Investigating Garda James O’Donoghue said climbers normally “confirm and double confirm” they are secure before pulling their anchor. “It would appear that at the end of this climb, and I cannot say for definite, a breakdown in communication happened,” he said. There was “no malice or criminality involved”, he told the court.

Mr Reville was treated for the breaks and was in “good form”. However, on August 28 he developed stomach pain which became severe and the bowel twist was discovered the following day. It was untwisted in surgery, however, he became unstable in intensive care and died in the early hours of August 30.

In evidence, Mrs Reville questioned whether her husband would have survived had the twisted bowel been discovered 24 hours earlier when he started complaining of stomach pain.

“I wasn’t told the seriousness of Joe’s condition. I didn’t realise that I should have been roaring, and screaming and demanding but I didn’t because I assumed Joe was in the right place being looked after by the right people and that he would be taken care of,” she said.

Pathologist Dr Tom Fitzgerald gave the cause of death as "reperfusion toxaemia due to small bowel volvulus"  - the releasing of toxins into the system following the operation to repair the twists in the small bowel. When asked whether being suspended for hours could have led to the twisted bowel, Dr Fitzgerald said he had been unable to establish a “causal relationship” with the initial injuries.

Coroner Dr Brian Farrell said that he did not have enough evidence before him to reach a verdict with further medical evidence needed. He adjourned the inquest for further mention on December 4.

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