Tributes to Corby teen who died following hospital neglect - ‘I love Zak to the moon and back. I want to tell the world how brilliant he was’
Moving tributes to a young Corby man who died after he was neglected by hospital staff were paid during the day-long inquest into his death.
Zak Fairhurst 18, went into John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford last year for spinal surgery, during which he nearly died.
Afterwards, while he was still being given strong morphine, a nurse failed to carry out vital observations for nearly nine hours, in inquest ruled.
Zak, who was more vulnerable because he had serious conditions after he contracted meningitis aged 18 months, might not have died had he not been neglected, said Coroner Darren Sanders.
Heartfelt written tributes were submitted to the inquest as part of the evidence. Those tributes have now been shared with the Northants Telegraph by Zak’s family in the hope that the publicity surrounding his death prevents others facing the same fate.
Vikki Fairhurst, Zak’s mum
“Zak wasn’t due until Christmas day, however he wanted to make an entrance on November 14, 2003, at 20.04pm, nearly six weeks early, he weighed 5lbs 13oz and was our perfect bundle of joy who was home from hospital the week after and perfect in every way.
“Zak thrived and became a cheeky, funny, loving little boy.
“Unfortunately, on the May 8, 2005, Zak contracted pneumococcal meningitis which left him with quadriplegic cerebral palsy, epilepsy, complex learning difficulties and non-verbal, and other issues.
“He became fully dependant on me 24/7 but Zak fought it off the best he could and came home after 9 weeks in hospital. I had lost the Zak I knew, but I got him back in only the way he knew by giving you beautiful cuddles plenty of kisses and great big belly laughs when you made a fool of yourself.
“He loved chocolate and cakes. Zak may have been nonverbal, but he had a way to let you know what he wanted or didn’t, if he didn’t want his dinner, he would always have his pudding!
“Yes, Zak was severely disabled, nonverbal and had huge daily challenges, but he had a full life, a loving life. I cannot express enough how Zak changed my life and has made me who I am, and I am so much stronger for it.
“He turned 18 in November 2021 and we had the biggest Tom and Jerry Party, going to the Pub and buying his first pint of cider with Dad and Uncle John, he was so proud and the smiles and giggles when he got all the attention is ingrained in my mind for ever.
“Zak was and still is our world, at 7.14pm on Friday 4th February 2022 our son, Zak James John Fairhurst died.
“We had a celebration of life, and it was bright and colourfully and quirky just like him. Zak’s smile and laugh have melted so many hearts but mine is broken now until I meet him again.”
James Fairhurst, Zak’s dad
“I met Zak in 2009 at Corby boating lake after I travelled back from Newcastle for the weekend to visit Vikki and to meet him for the first time. He melted my heart with his amazing smile and his brilliant attitude. We hit it off straight away.
“Zak had quadriplegic cerebral palsy but he had a big bright smile and big, brilliant laugh that made your heart melt which also made your day worthwhile.
“Zak was the best person you would meet in your life, if I had had a bad day, he brightened my day up just seeing his smile and hearing that brilliant laugh.
“The day me and Vikki got married Zak was the best-looking young boy in his kilt. Zak was the life of the party. The best day we all had was when we spoke to Zak and asked him if he would let me adopt him and Zak answered in his way, with a huge smile.
"I adopted Zak on 12th July 2013, we had one of the best days because although Zak was my son already, he now also had my name.
“Zak was full of life, he was a bright star, he was bigger than life, he was the life and soul of the party, and he had the best cuddle in the whole world.
“I love Zak to the moon and back. I want to tell the world how was brilliant he was. I miss my son every minute of every day which makes it hard to get out of bed most days, I want my son back and pray every night hoping this is a big bad dream for me and Vikki.
“Zak is not a number but a young man who needed extra help, he had the biggest smile, naughtiest laugh and a glint in his eye and he melted the heart of anyone he met.”
Hannah Fairhurst, Zak’s sister
"As a brother Zak was perfect, he’d always greet me with his cheeky smile in the morning. It was a perfect way to start the day. Now I have to sleep next to an empty room that was once filled with joy.
"No matter how bad your day was, how stressed you were or any negativity in your life the moment you saw Zak’s smile, it was like none of those things ever happened. You cannot describe that impact in words, they simply are not enough.
“I was truly blessed to have Zak as a brother, every memory I have of Zak is a positive one which is, I assume, not a thing most people can say about a sibling.
"Being around Zak made me take life for granted less, it made you think; if someone who had been through as much as Zak could be so happy and full of love all the time then we should all try harder to be more like Zak.
"He brought the people around him together, turning a group of people who just happened to know Zak into a big extended family.
Elma Clark, Zak’s gran
“We were devastated when Zak contracted meningitis, but he fought to live, and he won. Zak was a very happy boy, he loved fun and everything around him. He
loved to interact with other children and adults too.
"He was always smiling, and that beautiful smile melted the hearts of everyone who met him.
"Zak oozed love, affection, and happiness. I am so proud too of the progress he made as he grew into the beautiful young man he became. He filled my life with joy and happiness. I miss him so much.”
Liana Palombi, Zak’s teacher
“I started my journey at Corby Business Academy a month after Zak. On my first day, I was placed in his class, a small class of four students, and I was nervous. “When I first met Zak, he looked so small. It was like his wheelchair was swallowing him up.
"He seemed so fragile that I was always scared to support him.
"As my confidence grew and I started to get to know Zak, I realised just how wrong I was. Zak was head strong, stubborn, very clever and most definitely not the fragile boy I thought he was.
“I was so honoured to know Zak and work with him from year seven, all the way to year 13. I watched him grow into a beautiful young man. A young man that learnt how to communicate more effectively with those around him, built relationships with staff and students from across the academy, overcome multiple medical setbacks, continued to complete schoolwork which meant he achieved accreditation in his work and achieved an award during a celebration evening.
“Zak did all this with a smile on his face. Zak brought me, and so many people that knew him, so much happiness. He gave the best cuddles, often they also involved a head lock. I miss them. If I was having a hard day, I often looked for him.
"I think about Zak every day. I think about the time he is missing with us all. I think about the fact he did not experience leaving school. I think about the fact that he is missing out on college. I think about the fact he missed his prom.
"I think about the fact that he is missing out on days out with his family. I think about the fact that are so many firsts without him. I think about his family.
"Zak was a beautiful, caring, happy and larger than life soul. He filled my heart with such happiness, and I am grateful for every second I spent with him. I cannot thank his family enough for allowing me to spend time with him and celebrate his life.
"He taught me to be patient, to be grateful for what you have, to appreciate the small things and to not take life too seriously. He should still be here now.”
‘We hope to prevent this happening to another family’
In the hours after Zak’s collapse in hospital, his parents were asked whether or not they wanted a post-mortem to take place, or if they wanted his death to be recorded as due to natural causes. They insisted on a post-mortem examination to try to find out how their son had died.
Hospital legal counsel asked coroner Darren Salter to not record the death as being due to neglect because it had been partly caused by Zak’s existing conditions. But he refused, and instead recorded a narrative conclusion which included neglect as a contributory factor.
Following yesterday’s inquest, mum Vikki Fairhurst said: “As a family we are relieved in the decision that the coroner, Darren Salter, made by accessing the information he was given, in a fair and just manner for Zak and to hopefully prevent this happening to another family.”
Dr Elaine Hill, acting chief medical officer at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We are very sorry for the sad outcome following care at our Trust, and offer our deepest condolences to the family and loved ones at this very difficult time.
“While we are unable to publicly discuss the care of an individual patient, we have conducted a thorough internal investigation and this has been shared with the family and the Coroner.
“As a result of the investigation report we have implemented improvements, including the provision of clearer education and guidance for staff caring for young people transitioning into adult services, including those with learning disabilities.”
- Staff nurse Shumirai Chirairo, who did not take overnight observations while Zak was under her care, has been reported by Zak’s family to the Nursing and Midwifery Council. Minister for the disabled and Corby MP Tom Pursglove has also asked Steve Barclay MP, the Secretary of State for Health & Social Care, to review the case urgently.