A Wales woman whose 19-year-old daughter died a decade ago under mysterious circumstances now believes she suffered from a fatal drop in salt levels after chewing too much chewing gum, according to a report.
Samantha Jenkins, of Felinfoel, South Wales, died suddenly on June 3, 2011, after she complained of an upset stomach after she drank a bottle of soda on a steamy day, Media Wales reported.
“Sam and my other daughter Sophie went to town. It was a boiling hot day,” Jenkins’ mother, Maria Morgan, told the news outlet.
“Sam, as a typical 19-year-old, had skimpy shorts on and a T-shirt. They went to lunch and came home. Sam came downstairs and came into the living room. As the evening went on she said: ‘I don’t feel well’ and then she said, ‘I have been to the Co-op and I bought myself pop and it’s gone right through me,’” she said.
Morgan thought her daughter was suffering from dehydration and offered her water — but her condition soon deteriorated.
“She said, ‘Oh God, I don’t know what’s wrong with me, I can’t even pick my bottle up, it keeps falling on the floor,’” she told Media Wales.
“I told her to go and have a lay on the bed and take a bottle of water with her as she probably had too much sun. She told me: ‘I don’t want to go upstairs, I want to sleep down here.’ So I told her to go upstairs to get a quilt to bring downstairs. Then I heard this thud.
“Me and my other daughter got up and went to the door and I said, ‘What the hell was that?’ And she shouted downstairs, ‘Is this what it’s like to die?’ — and then we heard a thud again,” Morgan added.
Jenkins was rushed to Llanelli’s Prince Philip Hospital, where she was placed in an induced coma after going into convulsions.
“They said her salts were so low and they needed to get them back up because they thought that was why she was fitting [convulsing],” the mom said.
“They said once all her salts were back to normal they would take her off the machine and then we could try and fathom out what’s happened,” she added.
But three days after being admitted, Jenkins died.
“We were basically told as far as they could see that something had poisoned her,” Morgan said.
“We spent all night trying to think whether she had been near any
anti-freeze, could she have touched this or touched that? I remember going to the consultant and saying that the night before, she was sitting in the living room and wanted to paint her nails, and I thought, ‘Oh my God! Is it nail varnish remover?’” she said.
Morgan added: “All I can remember is that I went into the hospital on Friday with a daughter, and I came out on the Monday with her glasses. That’s all I had.”
A few months later, her other daughter discovered in a search of Jenkins’ bedroom just how much chewing gum she had bought on a regular basis.
“Every bag that she had and every drawer in her bedroom there were chewing gum wrappers, empty chewing gum boxes. Every handbag had receipts at the bottom of it where she would buy chewing gum. … I didn’t realize that she was chewing every single day of the week and as many as she was, but then, even if I did, I don’t even know if I would have been alarmed by it,” Morgan said.
“I did research and I went on Google looking at chewing gum and what could happen if you chew too much chewing gum. It was mind-blowing, completely mind-blowing,” she said.
“To be honest, I was thinking, ‘Why don’t people know about this?’ As a parent, you give your kids chewing gum and you don’t think anything of it. The artificial stuff that is in chewing gum is so dangerous — aspartame and sorbitol,” Morgan continued.
“It causes your salts to drastically drop in your body, and can lead to lots of things starting to go wrong with you which can be misdiagnosed — like lupus, irritable bowel syndrome. There is a list of everything it can do to your body.”
At an inquest a few years later, a coroner was unable to rule out the fact that chewing gum might have played a role in Jenkins’ death, Media Wales reported.
Dr. Paul Griffiths, a pathologist at Morriston Hospital, reported finding “four or five bright green lumps” that turned out to be chewing gum — and attributed the death to cerebral hypoxia caused by convulsions and electrolyte depletion.
Jenkins had a severe magnesium, potassium, sodium and calcium deficiency, the inquest heard.
The coroner said studies had shown gum sweeteners to be safe, but in recording a narrative verdict, he mentioned that gum could have played a role in the electrolyte depletion.
“They wouldn’t put down that it was definitely from chewing gum, but aided from chewing gum,” she said. “There have been no other cases in this country, but when you look to America, there has been cases like Samantha.”
As she mourns the loss of her “bubbly, vivacious, fun-loving daughter,” Morgan added: “There are so many ‘whys’ for me, but the biggest why is why on Earth have I lost my daughter to chewing gum? I mean, chewing gum — come on, it’s ridiculous.”