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The BBC's Karen Allen
"Confusingly, it is often used alongside another drug, which is injected into the spine"
 real 56k

Thursday, 1 February, 2001, 18:20 GMT
Woman died after drug blunder
Donna Horn
Donna Horn died eight years after the injection
A hospital injection blunder left a woman paralysed - and contributed to her death eight years later, an inquest heard.

The coroner decided this was an accidental death, but called for changes to syringe design to make another such tragedy impossible.

Donna Horn, from Wellingborough, Northants, was 15 when a doctor mistakenly injected the powerful chemotherapy drug vinblastine into her spine rather than a vein, Kettering Coroner's Court heard on Thursday.

I implore the medical profession to pursue as a matter of urgency the obtaining of alternative syringes

Anne Pember, Leicestershire Coroner
This is the same mistake which has left another teenager fighting for life at Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham this month.

In Donna's case, the neurotoxic drug paralysed her from the neck down.

In most cases, this is fatal within days or weeks, but Donna lived on for another eight years in this condition, needing constant 24 hour nursing care.

However, the inquest heard that her paralysis rendered her vulnerable to chest infections.

Disneyland trip

She developed one shortly before fulfilling an ambition to visit Disneyland in Florida in 1998.

Despite taking medication, while on holiday, the illness worsened and she died.

Pathologist Steven Milkins told the inquest the cause of death was the infection, aggravated by her paralysis.

A witness at the hearing was Dr Peter Greally, the doctor who wrongly administered the vinblastine injection while Donna was being treated for leukaemia at Leicester Royal Infirmary.

He told the inquest: "It was a genuine mistake from a lapse of concentration." He turned to Donna's family and apologised.

The health authority had admitted liability, and paid substantial damages.

Recording a verdict of accidental death, coroner Anne Pember said: "It seems to me the only way to avoid human error is to make it impossible to attach these syringes to a lumbar puncture needle.

Plea for change

"I implore the medical profession to pursue as a matter of urgency the obtaining of alternative syringes to avoid such a repetition."

The BBC understands that work on this change is already underway.

After the hearing, Miss Horn's sister Amanda McHugh said: "The coroner has recommended alternative uses of administering the drug should be made as soon as possible.

"Hopefully finance will not be used as an excuse not to make these changes."

Before and after the Donna Horn case, there have been at least 13 instances in which a similar drug, vincristine has been wrongly injected into the spine.

The most recent of these involved an unnamed teenager who was given the drug on January 4 this year. He is not expected to live.

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