- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2009

LONDON | When 8-year-old Sophie Waller cracked a baby tooth eating candy, it set off a chain of events that led to her death.

Sophie had such a fear of dentists that she refused to open her mouth for examination, so doctors at her local hospital took out the tooth in an operation. One of the medical team told a coroner’s inquest that they removed all seven of her other baby teeth at the same time to avoid the need for future procedures.

After the surgery Sophie refused to eat or even open her mouth for her parents, the couple told the inquest. But she was sent home anyway, and starved to death three weeks after the operation.

“No one saw her after she was discharged from hospital,” said her mother, Janet Waller. “I told [a child psychologist] she was sucking on a watermelon; she told me that was enough for her to survive on.”

The parents said the hospital mishandled Sophie’s follow-up care, referring them to a child psychologist who told them not to worry about Sophie’s plummeting weight. Mrs. Waller said she also was told to consult her family doctor, who prescribed nutrition drinks over the phone but did not see the girl in person.

Pediatric pathologist Marie-Ann Brundler said Sophie died at home on Dec. 2, 2005, from kidney failure caused by starvation and dehydration. The inquest was told Sophie weighed 72 pounds when she went into hospital and lost a third of that weight before she died.

A coroner’s inquest is required in Britain to establish the facts when someone dies unexpectedly, violently or of unknown causes, but the official has no power to punish anyone. The coroner is expected to rule next week.

An official at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro, 250 miles southwest of London, said there had been failures in Sophie’s care, and it had changed its procedures.

“The impact of Sophie’s death has been a wide-ranging impact across all of the disciplines that were involved,” John Ellis, a pediatrician, said at the inquest. “There have been changes.”

The Wallers have criticized the time it has taken to hold the inquest. The coroner’s office said it was a complex case and it took time to gather reports and inquiries from the different agencies involved.

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