To view original article click here
3:30PM GMT 30 Jan 2012
Dr Melanie Spooner weighed less than four stone when she died from crippling anorexia which ‘dominated her life’, an inquest heard.
The paediatrician, a graduate of Cambridge University, had battled the eating disorder since the age of 13 and would rarely eat in public, Southwark Coroner’s Court heard.
She was found dead by her parents in her southeast London flat on the afternoon of September 25 last year, after suffering heart failure brought on by her low weight.
Dr Clare Gerada, who examined Dr Spooner after she was put on sick leave in October 2010, told the inquest her prognosis had been poor.
“She hadn’t had a great deal of psychological input – she didn’t want to be treated like a child,’ she said.
“I didn’t weigh her because she didn’t want to be weighed, and she didn’t want to go into psychological issues in consultation.
“But she was very stable – she reported on the last occasion she had been able to eat in public for the first time in many years, and was enjoying the food.
“The only concern we had was it was difficult for Melanie to come and see us, and part of the agreement of her return to work programme was that she did come to see us.
“She was clearly upset and was concerned about other issues in her life, for example she wasn’t working and had very little money, and that concerned her.”
Dr Spooner, who was born in Reading, had worked at the Evelina Children’s Hospital in Southwark, south London, after transferring from University Hospital, Lewisham.
She had last been heard from on September 23 last year, when her mother sent her a text message to ask how she was coping with a cold, and she replied to say she was “great”.
Her parents drove to her two-bedroom flat in Agyll Road, Woolwich, southeast London, on the afternoon of September 25 when they became worried they were unable to contact her.
After finding the front door locked with a chain, they forced open the door with a screwdriver before discovering her lifeless body slumped on the floor.
In a note found in the kitchen, Dr Spooner expressed messages of love to her family, the court heard.
She was pronounced dead at 3.52pm.
A post-mortem report later found she had weighed just three stone 10lbs, but was unable to find a medical cause for her heart stopping.
“Sudden cardiac deaths are recognised in anorexia, so I think that’s the most likely cause of her death,” said pathologist Dr Peter Jerreat.
Giving evidence, her father, Robert Spooner, said Dr Spooner had a very healthy childhood but had struggled with anorexia throughout her teenage years.
“At the age of about 18 she went to university, so there was potential to slip thereafter,” he said.
“She did seek help.”
A report from her GP surgery said she had been prescribed citalopram, an anti-depressant, shortly before her death.
Delivering her verdict, Coroner Adela Williams said Ms Spooner had “no underlying medical, physical problems which we know of”.
She added: “Melanie was troubled ever since early adolescence by a devastating mental health problem, and that caused her to suffer severe weight loss and abnormal eating patterns,” she said.
“My own impression from the evidence I’ve heard is that it dominated her life.
“She was clearly somebody of substantial talent, and I understand she was a talented pediatrician.
“Clearly, in the context of her low weight, her employers became concerned about her.
“Her weight, while very low indeed, did not further decrease, she was hoping to return to work, and had thoughts of going to work in Australia.
“It is clear from the evidence I have heard that she had experienced from lowness in her mood, and her parents became aware of this shortly before she died.
“There was a letter which could be thought of as consistent with her depression, that she had intended not to live.
“In the light of other evidence, I think that can be wholly disregarded, and I do disregard it.
“The post-mortem found no physical evidence to account for her death, and it must be that her death was attributable to a recognised complication of anorexia nervosa, namely a cardiac arrhythmia.”
Verdict: natural causes.