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Doctors refused plea for scan, inquest told
Richard and Donna Rasmussen and their daughter Caitlyn Rasmussen with a picture of Vaughn. Picture: Lee Griffith/The West Australian

A mother has given an emotional insight into the final days of her son's life before he died from severe brain swelling after doctors repeatedly ignored her pleas to carry out brain scans.

Donna Rasmussen was in tears as she recounted the ordeal endured by her 15-year-old son Vaughn, who died at Princess Margaret Hospital in November 2009.

Giving evidence on the first day of a coronial inquest into her son’s death, Mrs Rasmussen said doctors at Fremantle and Princess Margaret hospitals refused to do a CT scan on him over several days in late 2009, and initially diagnosed him with gastroenteritis.

The couple had been adamant that a shunt placed in Vaughn’s head after corrective surgery as a baby had become blocked, causing swelling on the brain.

The shunt was to prevent swelling on the brain because of a build-up of fluid, a condition known to cause symptoms such as headaches and vomiting.

“My husband and I knew there was something terribly wrong,” she told the Perth Coroner’s Court this morning.

She her and husband Richard took Vaughn to hospital after noticing he was feeling unwell and displaying signs of irritability, tiredness and vomiting.

“You learn to read your children and we knew it was something to do with his head,” she said.

Mrs Rasmussen said they pleaded with doctors to complete a CT scan on Vaughn, but were “treated like we knew nothing”.

She said doctors even turned down further requests saying it would expose Vaughn to too much radiation.

Mrs Rasmussen said that after two nights at Fremantle Hospital, they decided to take Vaughn home and he was released “with no answers” as to his illness.

They later took him to Princess Margaret Hospital where they said their requests for CT scans on Vaughn were again denied.

“It was the only way we knew to check his shunt because he had [a blockage] previously when his shunt broke in 2002,” Mrs Rasmussen said.

The Rasmussen's went home but returned to Fremantle Hospital the following night.

Vaughn’s condition deteriorated and he was eventually rushed to the intensive care unit of PMH.

Mrs Rasmussen broke down as she told the court how Vaughn’s “lips turned blue and he stopped breathing” after being given morphine.

“I collapsed on the floor and screamed that they had killed my baby,” she said.

Mrs Rasmussen said it was only then that doctors examined Vaughn’s shunt and discovered he had “excessive fluid” on his brain.

A further test confirmed there was a blocked valve in his shunt.

She broke down as she described how doctors informed the family their son was brain dead and there was no chance of survival, leaving the family with the heartbreaking decision to turn off his life support.

“We never saw his eyes open again... If only one doctor had listened to us before he was admitted to PMH, we’d still have our baby with us,” she said.

“Why did our son die?”

Mrs Rasmussen told the court of the toll her son’s death had taken on their once tight-knit family, how it had left her feeling “dead inside” and pained by guilt.

“I feel guilty I didn't fight hard enough,” she said.

The inquest continues.