Pregnant Stoke Newington artist who died of heart disease ‘was never asked about her tell-tale swollen legs’ – inquest

Homerton Hospital

Homerton Hospital - Credit: Archant

The family of a talented artist who died of heart disease while heavily pregnant have asked why she wasn’t questioned by health workers about her swollen legs – which can be a symptom of heart failure.

Francesca Lowe, 37, had been suffering from norovirus for two days when she was found collapsed by her husband Gavin Nolan in the morning of January 23.

Mr Nolan, also an artist, found her “cold to touch” and pulled her into the hallway at their home in Yoakley Road, Stoke Newington, where he gave chest compressions. Ms Lowe was in cardiac arrest when paramedics arrived just after 7.30am and she died an hour later.

Poplar Coroner’s Court heard on Thursday that Ms Lowe had been diagnosed with a heart murmur aged seven. But rather than just “mild mitral regurgitation”, where blood leaks backwards through a heart valve, two ECGs carried out during her first pregnancy in 2012 pointed to possible “mild cardiac disease”.

Homerton Hospital’s consultant cardiologist Hans Xiao said Ms Lowe had not turned up to further appointments that had been sent to her at that time.

But Mr Nolan appeared to dispute the appointment letters had ever arrived.

He told the court: “Francesca was very careful in terms of her health, so I don’t know why she didn’t attend them. It says there were letters sent – but they weren’t copied into the GP.”

Most Read

Coroner Edwin Buckett will “put in enquiries” before the next hearing, due to take place in September.

Mr Xiao said Ms Lowe was not presenting with symptoms of heart failure – like “pain in chest, or breathless, being tired, being unable to sleep or having water retention in her legs”.

But her sister Octavia Lowe pointed out Francesca had swollen legs.

“She did suffer from swollen legs but she was never asked about that,” she said. “The questions were never put to her about that.”

The court heard that midwives referred Ms Lowe for the ECG on January 4 as a matter of routine during her pregnancy. The findings were referred to a departmental meeting on January 11, but Ms Lowe was not referred to a specialist clinic.

“Five years down the line, based on the ECG, nothing significant had changed compared to the previous ECGs, and I wouldn’t start medication,” said Mr Xiao.

He said that while mild cardiac disease can that be diagnosed with an MRI scan, that was “not practical to arrange with a baby”.

But Dr Andrew Dinall at Redbridge and Havering Trust – an expert with 19 years looking after pregnant women with heart disease who was asked to review Ms Lowe’s case – said he would have “wanted to see her in a clinic”.

“I would have suggested a cardiac MRI, but I can understand the level of concern wouldn’t have been great as like that in 2012,” he said.

The inquest continues.