Great-grandmother, 64, dies from respiratory failure after inhaling dust from an airbag that exploded in a car crash, inquest hears

A great-grandmother died from respiratory failure after inhaling dust from an airbag that exploded in a crash, an inquest heard.

Kathleen Woodhouse had been given a 'new lease of life' after receiving a liver transplant six weeks before the accident.

But little over a week after the collision she was struggling to breathe and eventually ended up on oxygen and using wheelchair.

She died aged 64 last year and a coroner Christopher Leach has now recorded a narrative verdict, saying: 'Mrs Woodhouse was involved in a serious road traffic accident following which her car airbag inflated and ruptured, causing her to inhale a fine dust.

'After the incident, she became increasingly breathless and chest X-rays showed inflammation of her lungs. This was more than likely caused by inhalation of dust from the airbag.'

Kathleen Woodhouse (pictured) had been given a 'new lease of life' after receiving a liver transplant six weeks before the accident

Kathleen Woodhouse (pictured) had been given a 'new lease of life' after receiving a liver transplant six weeks before the accident

Speaking after the hearing, Mrs Woodhouse's husband, Richard, said he was considering legal action.

He told the Mail: 'She had so much to live for. We were robbed of a lot of years together.'

The couple's son, David, added: 'We lost her on the day of that crash.'

Mrs Woodhouse, of Hellesdon, Norfolk, had a liver transplant for non-alcohol-related sclerosis in the summer of 2016 and within a few weeks went on holiday to Wales with her husband.

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They were driving back in October that year when they were hit by another car in Much Marcle, Herefordshire, writing off both vehicles.

Both airbags in their Hyundai Santa Fe deployed and retired bus driver Mr Woodhouse, 68, emerged unharmed.

But his wife – whose passenger side of the car suffered the worst damage – received injuries to her spleen and new liver and her airbag burst open.

Recalling the aftermath, Mr Woodhouse said: 'The dust was a fine grey/white powder. She was absolutely covered in it. She was coughing a little at the time.'

He added: 'After the liver transplant she had been given a new lease of life – her weight dropped and she was strutting about and walking faster than I can.

'Then, all of a sudden the accident happened and within a week or so she was back to slow.'

Specialists at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital didn't think the breathing problems were related to the dust from the airbag, according to Mr Woodhouse, until he researched it on the internet and found other examples.

Christopher Atkins, a consultant respiratory physician from NNUH, told the inquest in Norwich yesterday/on Wednesday: 'When I saw her in May 2021, she explained her increasing breathlessness came after the road traffic accident collision left her covered in fine dust following deployment of the airbag.

'It seems that chemical pneumonitis, caused by sodium in the airbag, is the most likely cause of her difficulties.'

Pneumonitis is a condition which causes inflammation of the lungs.

Retired dinner lady Mrs Woodhouse, who was wheelchair-bound and on oxygen for the last three years of her life, was admitted to hospital twice in a month just before her death and returned on April 6, before passing away two days later.

She also tested positive for Covid-19, although Norfolk assistant coroner Mr Leach stated he didn't consider her death to be the result of natural causes.

The medical cause of death was given as respiratory failure caused by hypersensitivity pneumonitis, chemical pneumonitis and Covid pneumonitis.

Mr Woodhouse, who had been married to his wife 45 years when she died, added: 'As soon as we get the death certificate then I'll be speaking to someone about it [legal action].'

Retired dinner lady Mrs Woodhouse (pictured), who was wheelchair-bound and on oxygen for the last three years of her life, was admitted to hospital twice in a month just before her death and returned on April 6, before passing away two days later

Retired dinner lady Mrs Woodhouse (pictured), who was wheelchair-bound and on oxygen for the last three years of her life, was admitted to hospital twice in a month just before her death and returned on April 6, before passing away two days later

His daughter, Donna Needs, said: 'She was waiting for her liver transplant and afterwards got her life back. But after the crash, she suffered for the rest of her years.'

Car airbags are inflated by a chemical reaction which produces a burst of nitrogen. They contain dust, such as talcum powder or cornstarch, to lubricate the airbag during deployment.

In 2012, marine engineer Ronald Smith, 59, of South Tyneside died of bronchial pneumonia three weeks after a crash in which his airbag burst and he was exposed its 'noxious' contents.

He was described previously as being 'extremely fit and active'.

​A Hyundai spokeswoman said: 'We were unaware of the accident to which you refer, or the subsequent inquest hearing.

'We have had no reports of similar incidents, whether in the UK or in Europe.'

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