Published: 06:00, 06 December 2020
| Updated: 09:10, 07 December 2020
A brave eight-year-old boy fought to save his mother’s life as she convulsed in a bathtub after accidentally overdosing on painkillers.
Mum-of-two Francesca Wood, from Canterbury, had been taking strong prescription drugs to reduce the level of discomfort in her hip, which she broke in a fall in December 2018.
The 31-year-old, who had osteoporosis, had a preliminary operation following the accident two years ago – but was bedbound due to complications and awaiting replacement surgery.
Tragedy struck when on the night of January 15, 2020, she suffered a fit while taking a bath at her home in Pine Tree Avenue.
Son Oakley Baines Wood alerted his grandmother, Rebekah, who was cooking downstairs, to Francesca's struggles.
She tried to help her daughter, before a neighbour and paramedics attempted to revive her. Despite their best efforts, she was pronounced dead.
As the emergency services left the property, Rebekah was told how Oakley desperately tried to save his mother by holding her head out of the water and administering CPR himself.
"It happened so quickly," the 58-year-old, who was also Francesca's full-time carer, said.
"She tried to get out of the bath herself three times and fell. She then went catatonic. I put one arm around her to keep her head out of the water.
"When the last paramedic was leaving, he asked me for Oakley's details and he said 'we want to put him up for a bravery certificate because he was trying to save his mum's life'.
"He was trying to keep her head out of the water and do CPR because she taught him how to do it."
St John's Primary schoolboy Oakley, who is now nine, was awarded a certificate of recognition by the South East Coast Ambulance service.
Francesca suffered from a number of long-term conditions, including rare autoimmune illness antisynthetase syndrome, osteoporosis and pulmonary hypertension – the last of which restricted her ability to breathe.
Her mother - who is now primary carer to Oakley and his three-year-old sister Eden - says her daughter was effectively trapped in her bedroom during the final months of her life.
“For the last year of her life, she was a virtual prisoner in her bedroom. She struggled to go downstairs and make it back up,” the 58-year-old continued.
"Doctors told us the pulmonary hypertension was a life-limiting condition, so we knew things were terminal, but we thought we'd have more time.
"She was always in pain. She would say 'most people wake up and pray for a good day, but I just pray for one where I can breathe OK and not have any pain'.
"What carried her through was an amazing sense of humour - she had the strength of character to get through anything.
"She was an amazing person. Her charisma was amazing."
An inquest in Maidstone was told that Miss Wood, who lived in Herne Bay for most of her life, had fatal levels of tramadol and fentanyl in her system.
Her father, Jonathan Manwaring, insisted during the hearing his daughter would not have taken her own life as she “had a zest for life [and] adored her children”.
Assistant coroner Joanne Andrews recorded Miss Wood’s death as being an accident, adding “there are no grounds” to consider it as suicide.
'She had the strength of character to get through anything. She was an amazing person...'
While concluding the inquest, she said: “There was no indication of mental health issues.
“I have heard that the doses of fentanyl were less than the maximum [guideline amounts].
“To prescribe fentanyl and tramadol together is not counter to the conditions of the British Lung Foundation.
“I will be recording her death as an accident as it’s more likely than not an unintentional overdose of the drugs prescribed.”
Francesca's father voiced concerns about the service provided by Northgate Medical Practice in Canterbury, which signed off on three prescriptions for Francesca the month before her death.
Despite only becoming a patient at the surgery at the beginning of November 2019, doctors did not see her face-to-face before allowing her to continue taking the opioids.
At the hearing, Northgate’s Dr Dan Horton-Szar said in circumstances such as these an appointment would usually be scheduled.
“She stated she had been taking tramadol and had fentanyl patches,” he explained. “She wanted to increase the dose of the fentanyl because the pain had not been managed.
“Tramadol was prescribed for treatment of her hip pain.
“It would have been presented as a return prescription request, where the patient is already established on that medication. The doctor would have decided it on that basis.
“Normally, when a patient joins the practice they would be invited for an appointment with one of the nurses. But on this occasion, the assessment did not take place.”
Dr Horton-Szar stressed that the number of fentanyl patches and tramadol tablets Francesca was receiving did not exceed maximum guideline amounts.
She was given three different patches, each with varying doses of fentanyl, that she had to apply at the same time.
The GP acknowledged that giving this many – rather than two – “might make it easier to take more” than the recommended amount.
“It was decided in August of this year that any new patient on medication would be sent to their registered GP to organise a review,” he added.
“There’s not a reason why it was not in place. Usually, something would trigger a consultation. On this occasion, Ms Wood was missed.”