'Brave Katie never got to say goodbye to her children as cancer was missed 9 times'
An Irish mum-of-two who died of cancer just three weeks after her diagnosis visited GPs nine times in the preceding six months, complaining of severe abdominal pain and bleeding.
Katie Delahunty O'Brien (31), from Sneem, Co Kerry, repeatedly visited the Newport Pagnell Medical Centre close to her home in Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire.
But her family claim her symptoms were dismissed as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
They are now calling on the British authorities to investigate her treatment by the NHS.
The first of Katie's nine visits was made in early June.
"She had abdominal pain and was bleeding," her sister Fionnuala Delahunty said.
"We believe the bleeding should have been the trigger for more investigation which could have led to an earlier diagnosis of the cancer. She kept saying to us 'I think it's something more serious'."
Each time she went back to the medical centre she presented with the same symptoms.
"The doctors should have investigated the cause of the bleeding, but we don't believe they did," said Fionnuala.
Such bleeding could be a symptom of bowel cancer.
"The doctors put her on medication for IBS for a number of months."
On November 16, Katie's condition worsened.
"She felt like she was having heart palpitations and she thought she was going to collapse with the pain," added Fionnuala.
Katie, a full-time mother to Sophie (7) and Luke (2), called an ambulance and was taken to Milton Keynes University Hospital, where she underwent a CT scan.
Her mother, Mary, rushed from her home in Sneem to be with her daughter, and was by her bedside when doctors told her the terrible news.
"They said she had cancer everywhere - lesions on her lung, her liver, her kidneys, her bones and bowel," said Mary.
"However, they said they wouldn't give her a full diagnosis for another week, which was November 24.
"For that week, we believed there was some hope. They talked about putting a plan in place. The following Thursday, I was down in the hospital canteen when I got a text from Katie to come up. They had told her there was no hope, that her liver was 80pc damaged and she wasn't well enough to have treatment.
"Her options were to go home or go to a hospice. She decided she wanted to go home. She stayed at home until she died on December 7, just three weeks after she was told she had cancer."
Before she left the hospital to go home, Katie had a civil ceremony and married her partner Matthew.
Katie wanted her marriage to be blessed by the church, and the family arranged a wedding for December 10, but Katie died three days before.
Katie was the daughter of Noel and Mary Delahunty, from Sneem, the fourth born of their five children. Katie was in good health all her life and rarely visited doctors.
A graduate of IT Tralee where she earned a diploma in tourism and hospitality, Katie met her husband and moved to Milton Keynes nine years ago at the height of the recession.
There the couple settled, before welcoming their two children Sophie and Luke.
Fionnuala, who is based in New York and flew to be by her sister's side on December 3, said the family accept Katie had an aggressive cancer and if she had been diagnosed earlier, it was unlikely it could have been cured.
"Katie was so compliant with the doctors and the NHS. She was not assertive or as outgoing as me.
"But if they had listened to her and investigated the bleeding and she got the scan earlier, perhaps her liver wouldn't have been so damaged and she would have had more time to prepare her children."
The family say palliative care nurses had initially encouraged Katie to prepare memory boxes for her children and record messages.
However, Katie's condition rapidly deteriorated in the three weeks before she passed away and she was unable to do this.
The last time she saw her children was four days before her death.
"She did not want her children to remember her as being gravely ill. And she was very ill. It was horrendous at this stage and she really did suffer," said Fionnuala.
Katie's family wish to draw attention to her death because they believe an earlier diagnosis could have been made during the six-month period she visited the Newport Pagnell Medical Centre.
Her family claim her symptoms and complaints were ignored by the British health system.
"She would have had more time to help and prepare the children," said Fionnuala. "She would have been able to have a proper wedding.
"She never got to say goodbye to her children, and none of us wanted the children to remember her like that."
On December 6, the day before her death, Katie and her husband Matthew had their marriage rites. She was administered her Last Rites shortly afterwards.
She passed away at 7.50am the following day.
"To be ignored and neglected, the amount of suffering she went through at the end, was horrendous," said her mother.
"The cancer had consumed her body. It wouldn't have been so much in vain, if she had been able to enjoy her last few months.
"If I were put in that position, as a mother, I would have loved to have written a letter or made a video [for the children]. To take that away from someone is just horrendous."
The Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) for the Newport Pagnell Medical Centre, and Milton Keynes University Hospital, were contacted for comment.
The hospital said it could not comment on individual cases and the CCG did not come back for comment at the time of print.
Katie's family say they contacted the hospital for her medical files, which have been given to them.
They contacted the clinic for the files, but say they were advised they could get access to them only when a request has been made by a solicitor.
A Mass was due to be said for Katie earlier today at St Augustine's Church in Milton Keynes.
Her family will then bring Katie's remains to her native Sneem where her funeral will take place in St Michael's Church on Wednesday next week.
A Just Giving fund for Katie's two children has been set up. The site can be found here: justgiving.com/crowdfunding/katie-delahunty