The tragic final days of diabetic 16-year-old Lachlan Cook, who died after a school trip to Vietnam
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA: The death of a teenager who succumbed to medical complications after a school trip to Vietnam is now the subject of a coronial inquest.
Lachlan Cook, 16, died on October 4, 2019, in Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne. This was after being flown home from Vietnam, where he was on a trip with Kilvington Grammar School organized by World Challenge. The teen had type 1 diabetes. However, his parents were not worried about letting him travel overseas. This was because he'd learnt how to manage his condition and measure his own blood glucose levels after being diagnosed as a child.
On September 14, 2019, Lachlan jetted off with his schoolmates after being cleared by his GP and pediatric endocrinologist. His father Peter Cook said the 16-year-old was thrilled about the trip. "I can hear him now saying, 'This is me doing it on my own, going to a different country, different language, different food and working this out on my own,'" Peter told ABC News.
Over the next fortnight, the Kilvington Grammar School group traveled more than 300 miles from the southern coastal town of Nha Trang to the ancient city of Hoi An. There they explored the beautiful lantern-lit laneways of the historic trading port. Further, they tried out street food and made their way through the bustling tropical market.
Lachlan started feeling unwell on September 26. He told Anna Walsh, the World Challenge expedition leader, that he'd vomited twice and was unable to keep down any liquids. Walsh, who reportedly had first aid training, realized that another student was also unwell, and diagnosed both with gastroenteritis. The teenager continued to feel sick as the group took a four-hour bus ride from Hoi An to Hue. He was given small sips of Sprite after he complained of having no energy.
On the other hand, he told the expedition leader that his blood glucose levels were okay. Later that night, however, Lachlan continued to deteriorate -- prompting Walsh to phone the World Challenge operations center. "World Challenge call-taker Stuart Thomas was not aware that Lachlan was a diabetic and it was not mentioned by Anna during the call, or when questioned about medication and symptoms," leading Senior Constable Lord told a coronial inquest in Victoria earlier this year.
Matt Brinson, a Kilvington teacher, called Lachlan's mother Kirsten McMahon to inform him of his condition. She urged him to check her son's blood-glucose levels every half an hour. Walsh contacted the World Challenge operations center again to ask if the boy's diabetes affected his treatment. In contrast, the inquest heard her message went unanswered.
The following morning, Brinson found Lachlan sitting at the end of his bed and breathing heavily. He noticed the 16-year-old was slurring and woke up Walsh. His condition at the time was described as floppy and unresponsive. The trio subsequently took a taxi to the Hue Hospital, where Brinson reportedly used Google Translate to communicate with staff.
Lachlan was moved to intensive care, where his heart stopped, and he was urgently resuscitated for half an hour. Forensic experts later concluded the teenager was in a state of diabetic ketoacidosis. It is a serious complication of type 1 diabetes due to the body's inability to produce sufficient insulin.
The coronial inquest learned in June that none of the supervising adults had any specific training or "sufficient" knowledge on how to manage diabetes. Nearly 24 hours after his heart stopped, Lachlan was flown to Thailand, where his loved ones arrived at his bedside.
"All of a sudden, we're at Bangkok International Hospital with our son with all these machines on him, and we're standing there and we're going, what the hell?" Peter Cook said. "This was a perfectly normal boy, going on an adventure," he added.
Lachlan was flown to the Royal Children's Hospital in early October, where doctors declared him brain dead. "There was no miracle that had been delivered," his mum Kirsten McMahon told ABC News. "I rang my parents and I said … 'You've got to come up here'," she said, with tears dripping down her eyes.
His mother went on to say, "How do you tell grandparents you've got to come up and say goodbye to your grandson?" The family then made the heart-wrenching decision to switch off his life support. "Thank God he had zero brain function because it made the decision for us," Peter stated.
Having said that, Lachlan Cook's death wasn't in vain. While his demise is a cautionary tale for diabetic patients, the teenager saved multiple lives by donating his heart, lungs, and kidneys. His pancreas went to diabetes research. His embattled family, meanwhile, continues to fight for justice.