Toddler dies of lung cancer which doctors dismissed as asthma

Grieving mother whose two-year-old daughter died of a rare lung cancer claims she was ‘fobbed off’ by SIX doctors who dismissed her daughter’s cough as asthma

  • Megan Clarkson became unable to keep food down in November 2016
  • No doctors recommended she have an X-ray despite her fast breathing rate
  • Scan finally revealed she had the cancer pleuropulmonary blastoma
  • Surgery to remove the tumour led to a massive bleed and cardiac arrest
  • Megan died on January 2 – just three weeks after she was diagnosed 
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A grieving mother whose daughter died of a rare form of lung cancer claims she was ‘fobbed off’ by six doctors who dismissed the two-year-old’s symptoms. 

Megan Clarkson, of Kirkcaldy, Fife, first became unwell at just six months old in November 2016 when she developed a cough and could not keep food down.

Over the next 28 months, Megan started losing weight and had a drawn-in chest, which is a sign the airways are blocked.

Megan’s mother Kelly Clarkson took her to see six doctors and five nurses, with none recommending the youngster have an X-ray, despite her breathing rate being twice as fast as normal. 

Told she likely had asthma, things took a turn for the worse and Megan was rushed to hospital, with a scan finally revealing she had type three pleuropulmonary blastoma.

With her only hope of survival being surgery, the youngster went under the knife to have her right lung removed, but suffered a massive bleed and cardiac arrest. 

She died at nine minutes past midnight on January 2 – three weeks after she was diagnosed. 

Kelly Clarkson’s daughter Megan (pictured together left) died of a rare and aggressive lung cancer on January 2. Mrs Clarkson claims she was ‘fobbed off’ by six doctors who dismissed her persistent cough as asthma. Megan (right) also lost weight and had a drawn-in chest

Mrs Clarkson – who also has a five-year-old son called Myles – said: ‘Looking back we feel let down by Megan’s care when she was around eight-to-ten months old.

‘Early detection of cancer is your best hope for defeating it and at an earlier stage Megan would have had a 90 per cent chance of survival and at the end, this had dropped to 37 per cent.  

‘But the only way we’d have got [early detection] is if the doctors had looked passed the viral infections and the “come-back-if-it-gets-worse” attitude.

‘When you do come back and it is worse, you feel fobbed off.’

‘You feel let down and you’re less likely to go back and try to find out if there’s anything wrong with your child.’

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Pleuropulmonary blastoma (PPB) is a rare childhood cancer that occurs in the lungs or their lining.

Its exact prevalence is unknown. 

There are three forms of the disease, with type I taking the form of cysts, type II being a solid tumour, and type III being both.

Type I is curable in around 89 per cent of cases, compared to just 50-to-70 per cent of children with type II or III who are cured.

Symptoms can include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Appetite loss
  • Chest or abdominal pain

Chest X-rays often show PPB tumours as being similar to pneumonia. 

Many sufferers are therefore prescribed antibiotics, which do not work. 

PPB often has no clear cause but may occur due to a genetic mutation.

Once diagnosed, surgery is often the first step, followed by chemotherapy.

Source: National Organization for Rare Disorders 

Mrs Clarkson took Megan to her GP for four months, only to be told the youngster had a non-serious upper respiratory tract infection and ‘some kids cough’. 

She then gave up on taking her to the doctors, until Megan developed pain under her arm and bruising that did not fade last year.

Mrs Clarkson also told a nurse Megan had a chesty cough and was choking at night, but was sent home with antibiotics, which the youngster could not even swallow. 

Doctors later thought Megan may have asthma and prescribed her two inhalers. 

When her symptoms got worse, Mrs Clarkson claims she had to be ‘nasty’ in order to see a doctor and nurse at the Royal Hospital for Sick Children in Edinburgh.

Megan eventually had an X-ray, which revealed a ‘white out’ lung – a common sign of pneumonia.

But further tests revealed she was actually suffering from cancer.

By the time Megan was diagnosed, her windpipe had shifted to her left side, which was a sign her condition could deteriorate rapidly.

Megan was rushed to the Royal Hospital for Children in Glasgow where an ultrasound of her heart revealed the tumour had grown. 

She later had surgery to remove it and tragically died.  

Twenty-eight months after her symptoms started, Megan (left) was finally diagnosed, but died three weeks later after she suffered a massive bleed and cardiac arrest during surgery to remove the tumour. Mrs Clarkson (pictured right with Megan) feels ‘let down by the system’

Despite everything her family has endured, Mrs Clarkson refuses to point the finger at NHS Fife and believes a ‘systemic failure’ let Megan down.

‘It’s not specific to any one person, it’s letting down the whole system, which is letting down the people who work there as well,’ she said.

‘I believe nobody is given the chance to do their jobs properly and to help children like Megan.

‘I don’t see how that’s going to be different in the future without a massive change in the system.

‘We need to have an investigation into the practices around how we care for children, particularly young children who can’t talk for themselves and improve the level of service we’re offered.’

NHS Fife medical director Dr Frances Elliot added: ‘The death of any child is a tragedy, and our thoughts and condolences are with the family at this very difficult time.

‘NHS Fife has not received any direct communication from the family.

‘However, we would extend an offer to meet with the family to discuss the concerns they have raised.’


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