The devastated mum of a teenager who died suddenly fears that her chewing gum habit could have caused the tragedy.
Samantha Jenkins, from Llanelli, was just 19 when she began to feel ill on June 3, 2011, three days before her death.
As the 10th anniversary approaches, mum Maria Morgan told Wales Online : “I remember it like it was yesterday.”
She said her daughter complained of feeling unwell, but initially she thought it was dehydration from being in the sun.
Maria recollected: “She said ‘Oh God, I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I can’t even pick my bottle up, it keeps falling on the floor.’ I told her to go and have a lay on the bed and take a bottle of water with her as she probably had too much sun.
“She told me: ‘I don’t want to go upstairs, I want to sleep down here’, so I told her to go upstairs to get a quilt to bring downstairs. Then I heard this thud.
“Me and my other daughter got up and went to the door and I said, ‘What the hell was that?’ And she shouted downstairs, ‘Is this what it’s like to die?’ and then we heard a thud again.”
Maria ran upstairs to find her daughter collapsed on the floor having a fit. An ambulance was quickly called and Samantha was rushed to Llanelli’s Prince Philip Hospital.
“They took her up to the ward and she started convulsing,” Maria said. “They called me in and said because she was fitting so much, they couldn’t get the medication into her that they needed and so they put her into an induced coma.”
Tragically, Samantha’s condition was not going to improve. Three days after her daughter was rushed to hospital, Maria was told the extremely sad news by a doctor at Morriston Hospital, where her daughter had been moved to the neurological ward.
“She never came back,” Maria tearfully explained.
“On the Sunday, I was sitting next to her in this intensive care unit and the doctor came in. He introduced himself and he told me he had come for a chat.
“He basically told me that in his opinion there was nothing they could do.”
The following day a brain scan confirmed the worse, and Samantha died on the Monday.
“All I can remember is that I went into the hospital on Friday with a daughter, and I came out on the Monday with her glasses,” Maria said.
“That’s all I had. I remember thinking how, how on earth can you go into hospital on a Friday with a 19-year-old daughter and walk out of there just two days later with just her glasses? It was the most, I can’t even explain, most surreal – I can’t even explain. It was just horrendous.”
In the months that followed, Samantha’s grief-stricken family had to face up the reality of their loss, and try and solve the mystery as to how her premature death could have possibly happened.
“For months it was constant phone calls,” Maria explained. “They did the toxicology report to find out what was in her system and it all came back negative. One day, my other daughter mentioned that Samantha used to chew chewing gum, so I mentioned that to the coroner’s office because she did used to chew gum a lot. That became a whole new thing and they wanted to know everything.
“But if it was chewing gum, why would I be alerted and think how many chewing gums was she having? I didn’t think anything of it.”
It was during a search of her daughter’s room that Maria discovered the extent of how much chewing gum Samantha would buy on a regular basis.
“I could see by receipts that she was having them every day. I couldn’t have told you how much she chewed, but I could say what I found – evidence that she was chewing them every day and was buying at least a packet a day on the way to work, sometimes two packets.”
She continued: “I did research and I went on Google looking at chewing gum and what could happen if you chew too much chewing gum. It was mind blowing, completely mind blowing. To be honest, I was thinking ‘Why don’t people know about this?’ As a parent you give your kids chewing gum and you don’t think anything of it. The artificial stuff that is in chewing gum is so dangerous, aspartame and sorbitol.
“It causes your salts to drastically drop in your body, and can lead to lots of things starting to go wrong with you which can be misdiagnosed – like lupus, irritable bowel syndrome. There is a list of everything it can do to your body.”
Maria and her family had to wait four years until her daughter’s inquest was heard.
A coroner was unable to rule out the fact that chewing gum might have played a role in Samantha’s death. Dr Paul Griffiths, a pathologist at Morriston Hospital, gave the cause of death as being a cerebral hypoxia caused by convulsions and electrolyte depletion. Samantha, the inquest heard, had a severe magnesium, potassium, sodium and calcium deficiency.
She was said to have consumed excessive amounts of chewing gum over a long period. Dr Griffith even reported finding “four or five bright green lumps” which turned out to be chewing gum. The coroner said studies had shown the sweeteners used in chewing gum to be safe but in recording a narrative verdict he mentioned chewing gum could have played a role in the electrolyte depletion. Dr Griffiths later added: “The most we can do is flag it up.”
Maria said: “They wouldn’t put down that it was definitely from chewing gum, but aided from chewing gum. It was red flagged with the FTA that it has to go down as a warning.”
Sunday, June 6, marks ten years since Samantha passed away and she would have been turning 30 the same month. Her mum explained the lasting impact of the loss to her and the entire family.
“There are so many ‘whys’ for me, but the biggest why is why on earth have I lost my daughter to chewing gum? I mean chewing gum, come on, it’s ridiculous,” she said.
“I still can’t get my head around it 10 years down the line. She was such a loss. Bubbly, vivacious, fun loving, wouldn’t harm a fly. She loved life, she wasn’t high maintenance, she was such a lovely girl. All she wanted to do was work in Wilkinson. She loved her job, she loved going out on the weekend enjoying with her friends, she loved her little brother Mckenzie, who was eight months at the time, she was dotty over him. She wanted to get married and have a kid. It is just so maddening that she didn’t know what she was doing to herself.
“It’s been horrendous. I get on with life, because I have other children and I can’t not get on with life, but I developed anxiety not long after she had gone and I have still got it. “
The family plan to mark the tragic anniversary together, Maria said.
“She will be remembered for just being chatty, fun loving,” she said.
“The sort of girl who wouldn’t know you, but say you go to the bus shelter to have a bus to town, she would make a conversation with you and know you by the time you had gotten to town. Everybody that I used to speak to always used to say, ‘Oh I met her once, what a lovely girl she was’. So bubbly, so chatty and she would do anything for anybody, just very, very vibrant and fun loving. Always happy, always loving life. She had such an infectious laugh, I miss that the most I think. I know it’s sad for us because we miss her but it’s her I feel sorry for, that’s the worst bit for me.”
Maria and her family visit Samantha’s favourite restaurant, McDonald’s, every year to mark her birthday, but this year plan to mark the occasion a little bit differently.
“I am going to make it a bigger thing this year. One of my children has moved away and is living in London and I don’t want him to be on his own on the day of her death,” Maria said.
“We are going up there and are going to be with my son on the anniversary of her death and we’re going for a meal and when I come home we are going to go to McDonald’s in the day and come back to the house and have a little family get together and let balloons or lanterns off at the back.”