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BBC Wales's Rhodri Lewis
"Surgeons performed an operation on her brain designed to help her severe depression."
 real 28k

Wyre Davies reports for BBC News
"She was keen to have the operation"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 8 December, 1999, 13:45 GMT
Inquest told of star's suicide threat
Lena Zavaroni weighed under five stone when she died Lena Zavaroni weighed under five stone when she died


An inquest into the death of Lena Zavaroni has heard that the former child star threatened to kill herself unless she had surgery to treat her depression.

The hearing in Cardiff was told that Ms Zavaroni had taken a drugs overdose while doctors assessed her for neuro-surgery.

Lena Zavaroni shot to fame as a 10-year-old Lena Zavaroni shot to fame as a 10-year-old
The 35-year-old singer - who shot to fame aged 10 on Opportunity Knocks singing "Mama, he's Making Eyes at Me" - died three weeks after a pioneering operation at the University of Wales Hospital in Cardiff.

The inquest - which heard that Ms Zavaroni weighed under five stone when she died - recorded a verdict of death by natural causes.

South Glamorgan Coroner Dr Lawrence Addicott said he could find no evidence linking her death from pneumonia to the operation.

Giving evidence at a resumed hearing in Cardiff, consultant neuro-surgeon Brian Simpson said Ms Zavaroni was "very, very keen indeed to have this operation performed".

"Ms Zavaroni had taken an overdose of drugs shortly before that and expressed the view that if she couldn't have the operation, or if it wasn't successful, then she would kill herself."

Mr Simpson described how the singer suffered from the eating disorder anorexia nervosa and depressive illness for over 20 years.

He said that she had undergone a number of drug treatments as well as ECT (Electro Convulsive Therapy).

Ms Zavaroni was bured in October last year Ms Zavaroni was bured in October last year
"None of these treatments had been effective - at least not in the long term," he said.

The court heard that she was then referred to the University Hospital of Wales in the summer of 1998 by a consultant psychiatrist.

Mr Simpson said all implications of an operation - including its risks and benefits - had been explained to her.

The consultant stressed that the operation was supposed to cure the depressive illness she suffered and not the anorexia nervosa she had battled since the age of 13.

"Her response was that she had learned to live with her anorexia and felt she was in a kind of equilibrium with it," he said.

Increasing torment

"She said she could not live with the increasing torment and suffering from the depressive illness.

"She felt depersonalised, she felt she had no feelings or future. She described this as torment."

The inquest heard that following the operation in September last year, Ms Zavaroni appeared to be in a "satisfactory" post-operative condition.

Mr Simpson said she went through some mild confusion and a period on incontinence which was "usual" and by the end of the first week she was "making telephone calls, cheerful and engaging in conversation.

"She then became very withdrawn for several days and her incontinence worsened," he said. But then became "brighter".

Chest infection

"She asked me if I thought there was any chance she would get back on the stage, she was very well."

But soon after, the hearing was told, she developed a chest infection and died from bronchial pneumonia.

Ms Zavaroni was buried in her Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire, on October 15. - her home of several years and where her father and younger sister still live.

Following success as a child star, her career slipped in later life and she retired from showbusiness when she married businessman Peter Wiltshire in 1989. It lasted just 18 months.

It was then that she moved to Hoddesdon, where she lived in a council flat, living on 48.80 a week in state benefit.

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See also:
15 Oct 99 |  Wales
Farewell to star Lena
12 Oct 99 |  Entertainment
Date set for Zavaroni funeral
05 Oct 99 |  Wales
Inquest ordered after singing star's death
04 Oct 99 |  Wales
Coroner to decide on star's inquest
02 Oct 99 |  Wales
Star dies following pioneering brain surgery
06 Oct 99 |  Medical notes
Anorexia factfile

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