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Welshpool student blacked out when making 999 call

Published date: 12 May 2017 |
Published by: Staff Reporter
Read more articles by Staff Reporter


 

A STUDENT from Welshpool died after suffering an asthma attack at university.

Steve Howarth, 27, was staying in his room in the Plas Coch Campus at Wrexham Glyndwr University, when he began to suffer from breathing difficulties in the early hours of March 28, 2016.

After ringing 999 and telling an operator he could not breathe and was going to die, the telephone line fell silent before Mr Howarth, of Oldford Rise, Welshpool, could tell the emergency services his name or where exactly in the seven-block residences he lived.

An ambulance was dispatched to the campus but after a frantic search by security staff and a paramedic, they were unable to locate Mr Howarth among the 208 rooms, many of which were empty with students away for the Easter holidays.

He was found lying face down on his bed and despite repeated attempts to resuscitate him, he was pronounced dead at Wrexham Maelor Hospital at around 3am.

The inquest, held in Ruthin on Thursday, heard that emergency medical dispatcher Nicola Jones took Mr Howarth’s call at 12.40am but after he had told her he lived in Block E at the halls, the line had gone silent.

The call was designated a ‘red call’ meaning immediate threat to life.

Lights and sirens were used and an ambulance arrived at the scene after around eight minutes.

Gareth Roberts, the paramedic who attended, told the court that “details were not clear” and that he only knew Mr Howarth’s location as Block E.

Mr Roberts was met by two security staff who searched right through the building, banging on doors before going on to search blocks C and D but they had been unable to find anyone in distress.

The paramedic said he had begun driving back to the hospital at around 1.15am but received a call saying that after repeated listening to the call, it sounded like Mr Howarth had said he was in Room 16 in Block E.

Mr Roberts said he returned to the campus and was once again met by the security staff but when they tried Room 16 a neighbouring student said the occupant had gone home for the holidays.

Security guard Jason Jones told the inquest that a week earlier a female student living in Block C had complained of breathing difficulties and that he assumed it was her who needed assistance as Mr Roberts had said he thought the caller had been female.

Mr Jones explained that only around 80 students were staying in the halls and that he and a fellow staff member didn’t have keys to individual rooms.

They also had to call a supervisor to ask permission to enter a student’s room.

Despite this he and his colleague, Muhammad Baldeh “went in there like bulls” as they banged on doors, trying to discover who had called the ambulance, going from “corridor to corridor”.

Mr Jones said Mr Roberts thought the call may have been a prank and “was not best pleased” when he again returned to the hospital.

Mr Jones had then received a call from the hospital telling him the student’s name and when he was able to check he found he was living in Room 14.

Mr Jones and Mr Baldeh, who both worked for Securitas, rushed to the room and found the door to be open but Mr Howarth was lying face down on the bed in his own vomit and not breathing whereupon Mr Jones attempted CPR.

A post mortem found no alcohol or drugs in Mr Howarth’s system but there had been some evidence in his room that he used both cannabis and steroids.

Mr Howarth’s GP confirmed he had suffered a number of asthma attacks, smoked around 20 cigarettes a day and suffered from anxiety in social situations.

The inquest also heard he had self-referred himself to a substance abuse service in October 2015 but had later declined, saying he had reduced his substance use.

The inquest was told that following Mr Howarth’s death, the university had reviewed its policies about security staff gaining access to students’ rooms in an emergency and that they now had access to a master key and no longer needed to ask their supervisor’s permission to enter a room.

Recording a verdict of death by natural causes, area coroner John Gittins praised Mr Jones and Mr Baldeh, saying “the efforts they made were commendable and beyond what was expected of them.”

He said: “My concern at the outset of this investigation were the difficulties in locating Mr Howarth and the practice and procedures to gain access to students’ rooms.

“Having looked at this carefully and seen the changes which now allow access to student rooms in emergency situations and the security officers having access to master keys I am sufficiently reassured these concerns have been allayed.”

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