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Son s brain swell ignored: Mother
Son's brain swell ignored: Mother

A Perth mother broke down in tears yesterday as she told an inquest doctors repeatedly ignored her pleas that her son be given a brain scan in the days before his death.

Donna Rasmussen's intellectually disabled son Vaughn died on November 17, 2009, after a shunt in his head became blocked, causing the brain to swell because of a build-up of fluid.

Mrs Rasmussen told Perth Coroner's Court that she and her husband Richard decided their son's life support should be switched off after doctors at Princess Margaret Hospital told them he was brain dead.

The couple took their son to Fremantle Hospital on November 12 because he was tired and irritable and was vomiting. They suspected that the shunt, placed in his head after corrective surgery as a baby, had become blocked.

Mrs Rasmussen said doctors at Fremantle thought Vaughn had gastroenterisis. After two nights in hospital, he was allowed home on November 14. Later that day he collapsed and his parents took him to PMH where he was again denied a brain scan, and then taken home.

On November 15, his condition worsened and he was readmitted to Fremantle Hospital and given a CT scan. He was transferred to PMH's intensive care unit early the next day.

It was only then that Vaughn's shunt was checked. He had surgery to remove the fluid but by then had severe brain damage. Mrs Rasmussen wept as she told how they asked "every doctor we saw" at both hospitals for a CT scan, but were repeatedly denied, with one doctor telling them it would expose Vaughn to too much radiation.

"We were treated like we knew nothing," she said. Mrs Rasmussen said they repeatedly asked for the scans because it was the "only way" they knew how to check his shunt.

The Rasmussens believed their concerns were ignored because their son was disabled and could not express himself.

"My husband and I knew there was something terribly wrong," Mrs Rasmussen said.

"You learn to read your children and we knew it was definitely something to do with his head."

Mrs Rasmussen told the court Vaughn's "lips turned blue and he stopped breathing" after a morphine dose at Fremantle on November 16. "I collapsed on the floor and screamed that they had killed my baby," she said.

She sobbed as she told of the devastating moment doctors informed the family that Vaughn was brain dead and 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 (ICU at) PMH, we'd still have our baby with us," she said.

Mrs Rasmussen told the court her son's death had taken a toll on their tight-knit family and had left her feeling "dead inside" and pained by guilt.

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

Outside court, Mr Rasmussen said their son's case should serve as a warning to other parents.

"If you don't feel that you've had the right advice - never give up, go back, go back and go back," he said.

The inquest continues.