Zoe Zaremba

Photo of a young woman with fair skin, brown hair in a purple bow, dangle earrings, and a silver charm necklace. She is wearing a gray jacket over a purple T-shirt that reads, "Swim with mermaids, ride a unicorn, fly like a cheerleader."Name: Zoe Zaremba.
Died: June 21, 2020.
Age at death: 25.
Cause of death: Suicide (Misdiagnosis; improper treatment).
Location: Aiskew, England, UK.

Zoe loved gymnastics and cheerleading. Her mother remembers attending competitions with Zoe, and remembers her as “an amazing, intelligent person with a dry sense of humor” who “helped many people with her knowledge and kind words”. Zoe valued truth and honesty.

Zoe’s mental health began to suffer when she was bullied in school at 13; at 16, she was diagnosed with autism. However, she continued her education and became a qualified accountant.

Zoe was unable to access proper mental health care; that which she did get was from people who had “limited understanding of autism”. She had a slow processing speed, which meant she took a while to respond to things–and staff saw this as her being “difficult, hostile, and challenging”. She was eventually misdiagnosed with borderline personality disorder because of her tendency toward self-injury, despite having no other traits of the disorder. She was put into BPD treatment and developed what her mother believes was post-traumatic stress disorder.

The diagnosis of BPD followed Zoe through the mental health system. Even when a further evaluation concluded that she did not, and had never had, BPD, the diagnosis stayed on her records. This bothered Zoe a great deal, because she greatly valued truth and did not want an incorrect diagnosis on her record. She wrote a tweet that read, “I feel trapped in a living nightmare they have taken my hope and identity from me.”

As her mother says, “[Zoe] could never get her head around the fact that they had her down for a condition she never had. It upset her deeply. They had turned her into someone she was not.”

Zoe died by suicide.

Editor’s note: Borderline personality disorder, now called emotionally unstable personality disorder, is a common misdiagnosis for autism in young women. Autistic people sometimes self-injure to try to handle extreme sensory, social, and cognitive stress; but “professionals” who see a young woman with a self-injury problem may automatically assign a diagnosis of emotionally unstable personality disorder–even when the autistic person in question has no other traits of EUPD. This is compounded by the fact that, in the psychology profession, people with EUPD are stereotyped as problem patients–needy, clingy, manipulative, and anger-prone. People with EUPD stereotyped this way tend to receive substandard treatment; an autistic person will have autistic traits immediately misinterpreted in the worst possible ways. Zoe, who had survived bullying in school, found herself being bullied yet again by the people who were supposed to help her.

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Mark Stuart

Photo of a young man wearing a striped shirt; he has light skin, sandy brown hair and a short beard and mustache. His expression is serious. Hospital equipment can be seen in the background.Name: Mark Stuart.
Died: November 13, 2015.
Age at death: 22.
Cause of death: Intestinal rupture.
Location: Blackburn, England, UK.

Mark loved swimming in open water. He lived in Kendal, which had many lakes nearby, and he had swum all of them. His favorite TV show was “Coronation Street”; He had the episodes recorded and watched them repeatedly. At 22, he was a 6’7″ giant who was living with his parents and beginning to make his first friends.

He was so detail-oriented and had such a good memory that his family never needed a GPS system when they went on vacation because he knew the national highway network by heart.

Mark developed digestive problems and began to lose weight rapidly–a third of his body weight in his last six months. When his bowel became blocked and he was in severe pain, his parents took him to the hospital.

The hospital neglected Mark. For five days, he lay in severe pain, starving because the hospital would not give him any IV nutrition, and dehydrating because they did not give him enough fluid. They promised surgery, and then delayed it. When Mark told nurses that his pain was even worse than it had ever been before, they refused to insert a tube to drain his stomach and relieve the pain. Later that day, Mark’s bowel ruptured.

A new doctor arrived and saw Mark was dehydrated, and rehydrated him too quickly, making things even worse. Mark was in crisis by the time doctors finally decided to take him in to surgery; when they administered the anesthetic, his heart stopped and he could not be resuscitated.

Mark’s family scattered his ashes at his favorite swimming spot.

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Name: Unknown; “H.B.”.
Died: July 3, 2019.
Age at death: 8.
Cause of death: Acute exacerbation of chronic asthma.
Location: Ulverstone, Tasmania, Australia.

This boy, known only by his initials as “HB”, lived with one set of grandparents in Bendigo, but was visiting his other set of grandparents in Ulverstone. When he began struggling to breathe, he was rushed to the hospital, and told the staff there that he had asthma.

However, the staff did not listen to the boy. Though they correctly identified his asthma, they insisted that his symptoms–coughing severely and panicking because he could not breathe–were those of a panic attack. Instead of treating his asthma as a serious problem and transferring him to a bigger hospital where he could receive intensive care, they gave him Ventolin (the medication often used in asthma inhalers) and waited.

Days later, the boy was still short of breath, and the staff was still insisting that he was having panic attacks. HB collapsed in a hospital bathroom and stopped breathing. An autopsy confirmed he had died from an asthma attack.

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Sharon Lilley

Lilley, SharonName: Sharon Lilley.
Died: June 6, 2019.
Age at death: 29.
Cause of death: Ischemic bowel.
Location: Timaru, South Island, New Zealand.

Sharon was a musician and artist. She enjoyed both fishing and cooking the fish she caught. She was a Queen’s Guide (the highest available award for Girl Guides) and had her pilot’s license, flying solo at age 17.

Sharon was kind and caring, and would provide care for anyone, human or animal, who needed it. She had an intellectually disabled brother. She promised her parents that if they were ever unable to care for him, she would take over. But Sharon’s brother outlived her.

Sharon went to the emergency room three times with severe stomach pain. However, because her Asperger syndrome caused her to react differently to pain, doctors blamed her symptoms on her large body size.

In cases like Sharon’s with acute abdominal pain and a high heart rate, it would have been standard procedure to carefully eliminate all life-threatening conditions, provide a surgical review, request a CT scan with IV contrast, and address the cause of her high heart rate. However, none of this was done, and her pain was not addressed.

On her third visit to the emergency room, Sharon was finally given that CT scan, and doctors found that a large section of her small intestine lacked blood flow. In the operating room, surgeons were unable to repair the damage. Sharon died later in the ICU.

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Melody Driscoll

Driscoll, MelodyName: Melody Driscoll.
Died: July 3, 2018.
Age at death: 11.
Cause of death: Medical malpractice (Necessary medication withdrawn, signs of pain ignored; internal bleeding from pancreatitis).
Location: London, England, UK.

Melody couldn’t talk, but she could understand everything around her. She was a fan of singer Ed Sheeran and owned her own guitar; the first time she saw him on TV, she fell in love with him. When she was nine years old, Ed Sheeran visited her in the hospital. At first she didn’t believe it was really him because he had cut his hair; but then he showed her his tattoos. Realizing it was really him, she couldn’t stop smiling.

Her favorite color was yellow. Sometimes, when a doctor tried to listen to her chest, she would grin mischievously and hold her breath. She had four brothers.

Melody had several other conditions, including intestinal failure and eventually severe chronic pain. When she was four years old and dying, her parents decided that even though being on strong painkillers and TPN (being fed nutrients through an IV) might shorten her life, it would improve the quality of the life she did have. This turned out to be true; with the aid of painkillers and medical support, Melody lived relatively happy despite her illness and constant hospitalization. She was not supposed to live past the age of four, but with TPN and painkillers, she made it to the age of eleven.

At eleven, Melody’s liver was starting to give out from the TPN. She was having repeated infections. And then came the last straw: Her doctors decided to withdraw her pain medication. Every time they had tried this before, Melody’s body had begun to give out, the stress of pain and withdrawal from the medication simply too much for her to handle, and Melody’s parents had to insist she be put back on the medication which, as a terminally ill child in severe pain, she needed to keep her quality of life reasonably good.

But when Melody was transferred to a new hospital to have her care overseen by a liver specialist, the doctors decided that she didn’t need painkillers and stopped her medication. They were convinced that her crying, writhing in pain, and indicating where it hurt was just “behavioral problems”. The doctors even threatened to have her parents’ custody of Melody taken away and later applied to have all medical decisions be reviewed by the court. Threatened with having Melody die alone without her parents by her side, her parents decided to stop fighting and stay with Melody instead.

After being taken off medication, Melody’s health quickly deteriorated. She died, after eleven weeks of pain and increased internal bleeding, when doctors perforated her bowel with a tube while trying to treat her pancreatitis.

Ed Sheeran played a tribute at her funeral.

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