Pharmacy mistake 'almost kills' elderly Aussie woman leaving daughter devastated

Lisa Carratelli said her mother is now 'very fragile' after accidentally overdosing on her medication which was packed by her pharmacist.

A devastated woman has watched helplessly as her mother's health "deteriorates", unable to walk or eat on her own and forced into a nursing home.

The reason, according to Lisa Carratelli, is because of a "significant" pharmacy blunder which saw her mother overdose on her medication, resulting in the need for round-the-clock care after it "nearly killed her".

The 87-year-old had been prescribed methotrexate by her doctor — a chemotherapy drug used to treat some cancer, autoimmune diseases, and ectopic pregnancies. It's also used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, a condition Maria had been suffering from.

But when Lisa's mum began feeling unwell, complaining of a consistent sore throat, she was eventually sent to Maroondah Hospital in Victoria after failed doctor's visits. Doctors there grew concerned after inspecting her Webster pack — a pre-packaged medication dispenser packed by pharmacists for patients with multiple medications.

Lisa Carratelli and her family before and after mum Maria's methotrexate overdose.
Lisa Carratelli (left) pictured with her parents and sister just months before Maria's overdose (right). Source: Supplied

"The hospital started questioning her medication and called the pharmacist," Lisa explained to Yahoo News Australia. "She was supposed to take two [tablets] once a week but the pharmacy had packed the Webster packs with two tablets daily". That's seven times the prescribed amount.

A discharge document from Box Hill Hospital, where Maria was later sent, and provided to Yahoo, suggests the 87-year-old was suffering from "methotrexate toxicity resulting in Mucositis with Pancytopenia" — low levels of red blood cells.

"It burnt all inside of her mouth and down her throat. She was in hospital for quite a long time," Lisa continued. "Then she ended up in rehab for months before we had to put her in a nursing home because she's not been able to recover."

Hospital discharge papers for woman lying in hospital bed.
Discharge papers from hospital say Maria has suffered from 'methotrexate overdose' which has cause her body to deteriorate in just one year. Source: Supplied

'The pharmacist nearly killed her'

As well as burning her insides, Maria ended up losing her hair — a common side effect of chemotherapy. Now, the 87-year-old is "very fragile," a devastated Lisa said, convinced "the pharmacist nearly killed her".

The pharmacist, a friend of the family from a Melbourne suburb, who Lisa asked not to name, allegedly apologised after learning what had happened, but claimed it wasn't he who made the pack. He allegedly sent the family "a big bunch of flowers" — but Lisa claims she's not heard from him since.

Hoping to pursue the case to ensure no other families suffer, Lisa reached out to a number of solicitors for advice. "They keep saying, because of her age, that there was nothing that they could do for us," she said. She also wrote to the Pharmacy Board of Australia to report what she claims to be pharmaceutical malpractice but was again told the same thing.

Burnt mouth and hair falling out after methotrexate overdose.
The medication caused burns to Maria's mouth and throat (left) and eventually caused her hair to fall out (right). Source: Supplied

Desperate for no more families to suffer

Lisa contacted Yahoo after reading about another Aussie mum Jessica Smith, whose toddler overdosed on his epilepsy medication after the pharmacy made an error. She's now calling for it to be mandatory across the board for all prescriptions to be checked by two pharmacists, instead of one, before being handed out.

Yahoo understands that at the moment in Australia, two pharmacists are not required for the dispensing of medicines. The use of a double-checking process for dispensing is determined by the individual pharmacist.

"I'm not after any money or anything. I just want it not to happen to someone else," Lisa said, more than a year after the incident. "I want to help people to understand why they should always check the medication and not just trust the pharmacist".

A spokesperson for the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency told Yahoo "When dispensing medicines, pharmacists should be guided by professional practice standards, the Pharmacy Board of Australia’s code of conduct and guidelines for pharmacists including:

  • Guidelines for dispensing of medicines

  • Guidelines on dose administration aids and staged supply of dispensed medicines

In the meantime, Lisa's dad, a pensioner, is forced to cover the cost of his wife's care. "When you're on a pension, they don't really get a great deal [of money]," she added.

While she admits "it could have been worse" and is thankful her mother's alive, the fact of the matter is "she could have died". "As they get older, it doesn't mean that they just get pushed aside," she said.

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