A ‘fit and healthy’ teen died just three weeks after being diagnosed with a brain tumor, after medics dismissed his initial symptoms as an ear infection.
Niall Kavanagh, from Newmarket in Suffolk, was first rushed to the ER in September 2021 after falling ill and collapsing while playing football.
NHS hospital staff dismissed the 19-year-old’s symptoms as an ear infection or suspected virus.
But his mother Clare rushed him to the emergency department the following month after he suddenly couldn’t talk or walk.
Doctors then saw his brain tumor and died three weeks later.
Niall Kavanagh (pictured), from Newmarket in Suffolk, was first rushed to the ER in September 2021 after falling ill and collapsing while playing football
NHS hospital staff dismissed his symptoms as an ear infection or suspected virus. But his mother Clare rushed him to the emergency department the following month after he suddenly couldn’t talk or walk. Doctors then saw his brain tumor and died three weeks later
Claire, a secretary, said: ?I will never understand how Niall went from being a fit, healthy 19-year-old, playing football and living with his girlfriend, three weeks after diagnosis.
“Losing him destroyed my life and I don’t want other families to go through the same heartbreak.”
Niall first became unwell in September 2021 when he vomited and collapsed during a football match and was taken to the ER.
He then went to the hospital on two consecutive Saturdays, but was “checked and sent home with a suspected virus or ear infection,” according to his mother.
Claire booked him a GP appointment a few weeks later after his symptoms persisted and worsened, but Niall didn’t make it.
She became more concerned when Niall forgot he had spoken to her and other family members began to worry as well.
In October, Niall’s brother went to his house and called his mother to say that he was unwell and that he would put him to bed.
Claire said, ?When I got there, Niall was conscious and was sitting up gesticulating, but he couldn’t speak.
?In the end we got him into the car and drove to Addenbrooke ourselves. He couldn’t walk or talk and the staff there thought he had taken something.
?Then it was said that he had a seizure because he just wasn’t responding. He was able to move, but he couldn’t coordinate anything.’
He was taken for a scan and doctors discovered a lesion on his brain.
More than 12,000 Britons and 94,000 Americans are diagnosed with a brain tumor each year, with 5,300 deaths in the UK and 19,000 in the US.
Headaches, forgetfulness, fatigue, and communication problems are all telltale signs, along with nausea, dizziness, vision changes, seizures, and loss of taste and smell.
Doctors feared that Niall would not survive the emergency surgery because they had “never seen anything as aggressive as Niall’s brain tumor,” Claire said.
She added, ?It almost left us hopeless. I had to go home and tell Niall’s two younger brothers to say goodbye.’
Niall survived the surgery and was able to talk, use his phone and breathe on his own for the next three weeks.
However, after a procedure to remove a shunt – a hollow tube surgically placed in the brain to drain fluid – Niall did not regain consciousness.
Claire, a secretary, said: “I’ll never understand how Niall went from being a fit, healthy 19-year-old, playing football and living with his girlfriend, to dying three weeks after diagnosis.” Pictured: Niall holds his mother’s hand
Claire is now working with Brain Tumor Research to petition for more funding for research, so it’s given equal priority to breast, colon and lung cancer
Claire said: ‘He was taken back to ICU and when I saw him the next morning he was not responding as before.
He gradually faded after that. I was told that Niall’s brain was swelling and there was nothing they could do to stop it. Essentially he was dying.’
He died three weeks later, on November 1, after doctors ran tests and confirmed he was brainstem dead.
This is when a person on life support has lost brain function, meaning they cannot regain consciousness or be able to breathe without support.
Claire said, “I wanted a miracle, but his surgeon agreed that it was a miracle in itself to have him back three weeks.”
She is now working with Brain Tumor Research on petition for more funding for research, so it’s on par with breast, colon and lung cancer.
Claire said, “I’ve signed the petition and encourage others to do the same, because brain tumor research money is so desperately needed.”
Charlie Allsebrook, community development manager for Brain Tumor Research, said: ‘What happened to Niall is a tragedy, losing someone so young and so soon is devastating.
?We are very grateful to Claire for supporting our petition and helping to raise awareness. For too long, governments have put brain tumors on the “too hard to think about” pile.
?Patients and families continue to be let down by a funding system built in silos and not fit for purpose.
?If everyone has a few minutes to sign and share, we will soon reach the 100,000 signatures we need and help find a cure, bringing hope to families whose loved ones have been affected by brain tumors. ‘