THE mother of a landscape gardener with a nut allergy who died after eating a curry from an Indian takeaway is urging other sufferers to be aware of what they eat.
Derek John Stephenson was eating a Sunday night takeaway while watching the X Factor with a friend when, after just a few mouthfuls of his chicken tikka, he started coughing violently and his lips turned blue.
The 31-year-old initially thought he was suffering an asthma attack, but after his inhaler failed to work, he told friend Stephanie Hodgson: “S***, I’m allergic to nuts”.
Speaking at Mr Stephenson’s inquest in Crook, County Durham yesterday (April 14), Ms Hodgson broke down in tears as she recalled her efforts to raise the alarm after Mr Stephenson took ill at his home in Stanhope, Weardale, on Sunday, September 22, last year.
Ms Hodgson, who said Mr Stephenson was soaked in sweat and with his skin turned waxy, told the inquest: “The penny dropped that he was having an allergic reaction, he looked terrified.”
Paramedics declared him dead at his home on Front Street a short while later, coroner Andrew Tweddle was told.
Mr Stephenson’s mother Linda Brown said she had previously ordered the same meal for him from Memsahib in Tow Law, County Durham, on the understanding that it contained no nuts, and there had never been a problem before.
Pathologist Dr Mitul Sharma initially said the death was caused by a “cocktail” of drugs including ecstasy and cocaine which Mr Stephenson had taken the night before.
But Mrs Brown contacted the coroner to raise serious concerns over a lack of investigation into her son’s allergy.
After further tests, Dr Sharma revised her findings and said she believed Mr Stephenson died as a result of the combination between the allergic reaction and the drugs.
Mr Tweddle recorded a verdict of death by misadventure and said Mr Stephenson’s died “as a result of a severe allergic reaction to nuts in the presence of the drugs”.
The coroner also praised Mrs Brown for her persistence in ensuring the allergy enquiry was fully investigated.
Speaking after the inquest, Mrs Brown remained adamant the drugs played little or no part in her son’s death and is now urging other allergy sufferers to be aware of what might be in their food.
She said: “Losing Derek was devastating, but if we can stop it happening to someone else then we’ve got to try.
“It is becoming an ever increasing problem particularly with takeaway foods when you simply don’t know what is in it.”
She will now raise the concerns with trading standards and is also in touch with allergy awareness groups to use her son’s story as a warning to others.
Mrs Brown commissioned her own analysis of Mr Stephenson’s meal and the chicken was found to contain 10,000mlg per kg of peanut protein with several side dishes also contaminated by much lower levels.
Mr Tweddle said it was common for Indian dishes in particular to contain nut traces.
Mr Stephenson was diagnosed with a nut allergy when he was about four-years-old with his last severe reaction in 2000.
Mrs Brown said he always took care over what he was eating, to the extent that he would even ask people not to open bags of nuts near him in the pub.
The Northern Echo contacted the Memsahib restaurant but had not received a reply last night.
In December, new rules will be introduced ordering sellers of non-packed food, such as takeaways, to label the possible allergens in their food.