Melbourne teen dies on Europe school trip after illness dismissed as homesickness

·5-min read

A school trip of a lifetime turned tragic for a 15-year-old boy who died after his illness was wrongly dismissed as homesickness.

Melbourne student Timothy Fehring set off to Europe with 16 other students, and two school staff members in June, 2019 but fell ill as soon as arriving in Berlin, the group's first stop.

At first the teen —who went to Blackburn High School — attributed his vomiting to the spicy plane food on his flight from Melbourne, texting his mum saying: "Working on getting better so I can have a better time."

Timothy Fehring Melbourne student
Timothy Fehring, 15, fell ill immediately after leaving Melbourne for Berlin on a school trip. Source: Nine News

But his symptoms worsened when he began suffering from severe stomach cramps and dizziness and struggled to eat anything, a coroner's report found.

He continued to vomit on the second day and flagged his sickness to the staff who accompanied the students on their trip. One of them spoke to Timothy's mum and together they concluded he was feeling homesick — a diagnosis later supported by doctors.

His parents Barbara and Dale Fehring told Nine News their son was "never one to complain," adding that he was a"super fit and healthy child".

Symptoms dismissed as homesickness

They became increasingly worried when Timothy continued to complain of symptoms. He was taken to a pharmacy where he was given Buscopan to help ease his stomach.

Timothy told his mum he wanted to go home and his mum asked the school staff to take him to see a doctor.

The coroner's report found that Timothy had "expressed dissatisfaction about how he was being treated,"and he felt that no one believed him".

Timothy at airport with 16 school students and two staff members.
The teen was accompanied by 16 other students and two staff members from Blackburn High School. Source: Nine News

The teen was eventually taken to see a doctor at Munich Children's Hospital. He "appeared exhausted and was visibly pale and had noticeably lost weight", while on a walking tour that day.

There he was told he had severe constipation and gastro, which could have been connected to feeling homesick, the doctor confirmed before clearing him to leave.

Teen found unresponsive after suffering heart attack

On June 27, five days into the trip, the group travelled to Vienna, Austria and went on a walking tour of the city.

Staff encouraged him to eat foods that would aid his constipation, the report revealed. He told then he wanted to go to a hospital but staff considered he was trying to avoid doing planned activities, the coroner found.

Timothy asked not to go as he wasn't feeling up to it, but he did anyway with a "vomit bag" in tow.

He had been allowed to go home and a flight was booked. Before his arranged flight home to Australia on June 29, the teen visited a GP to get a fit-to-travel certificate.

He was encouraged to present well to the doctor so the certificate would be granted. The teacher did not ask the doctor to examine Timothy and no tests were carried out.

But after stepping out to get some air, Timothy was found unresponsive on the ground and bleeding from the nose. He was also covered in vomit, the report revealed.

It took more than 10 minutes for the teacher to get hold of a doctor. Doctors performed CPR for up to seven minutes before he was rushed to a hospital in Vienna for treatment.

Once there, his pupils were at "maximal dilation", which indicated a lack of oxygen leading to brain injury.

Timothy died on June 28, one day before flying home to Australia.

An autopsy following his death revealed the teen had a "highly acute" infection in his stomach and lungs. He also suffered a heart attack.

"Copious bacteria and fungi were found in the lungs and in the blood," the report reads.

Barbara and Dale Fehring speak after teen son's death
The teen's parents Barbara and Dale Fehring claimed they were never made aware of just how sick their son really was. Source: Nine News

Parents call for change to school tours

The heartbreaking news came as a shock to Mr and Mrs Fehring who said they weren't made away of how sick their son really was.

Now, the heartbroken parents are calling for an overhaul of school staffing requirements on international tours, and argue their son should have received better care.

"Children shouldn't die. It's just something that's so tragic," Dad dale told Ten News.

"It's been a really hard three years, we just have to cope. It's very hard to be happy"

"When he said he was sick and said something wasn't right, that was the truth," his mum told Nine News.

The Melbourne mum suggested a school nurse could have helped save her son's life by knowing it wasn't homesickness causing his symptoms.

Coroner Simon McGregor declared that staff on the trip "made the wrong judgement call" about Timothy's condition, and failed to take them seriously.

He called on the Department of Education to increase its ratios on overseas trips so students were better looked after in the event of illness and to reassess the department's excursions policy.

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