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Bullied to death.  June’s daughter, Tracey, 41, decided to undergo weight loss surgery after her kids were bullied for having a ‘fat mum’. Desperate Tracey was a size 34 and weighed 24 stone when she had a gastric sleeve operation, designed to cut the amount of food that can be eaten. But doctors failed to notice her stomach was punctured and two further operations could not save her.

Tracey’s life-support machine was turned off days later, leaving June, 68, to care for her devastated children Riah, 17, Enes, 14, and Zeren, seven. Four years on and the family have now won compensation from the NHS trust involved.

Tracey and her daughter Riah
Tracey and her daughter Riah


‘I’ve been looking into weight loss surgery,’ my daughter, Tracey, 41, announced one evening. ‘I want to have a gastric sleeve operation,’ she told me. ‘Oh Tracey…’ I sighed. Although I didn’t want her to have it, her request didn’t take me by surprise. Her size had always been an issue.


Tipping the scales at 24 stone and bursting out of a size 34, she was desperately unhappy. The procedure would cut down the amount of food she could eat and help her get down to 18 stone. Wanting to be healthier for the sake of her children and know she would be around to see them grow up, it really was Tracey’s last resort. She had tried every diet in the book but it was clear she just didn’t have the willpower to stick to any of them. Every time she did manage to shift some weight, she would slip back into her bad eating habits.


She just couldn’t walk past Greggs bakery without popping in for a pastry. When Tracey was in her teens, we even had her jaw wired shut. She soon cut the wires off herself when she couldn’t scoff junk food. But this time was different. Her little girl, Riah, had been teased at school about Tracey’s size. ‘What’s wrong darling?’ Tracey asked her as they walked home one afternoon. ‘Some kids are being mean,’ Riah mumbled shyly. ‘They called you fat mummy.’ Tracey was mortified but she tried not to show it. As mean as the taunts were, she knew they were true.


From then on she refused to wait at the school gates, but would linger further down the road out of sight to avoid Riah’s classmates spotting her. As a devoted mum, Tracey’s whole world revolved around her children. She was determined to protect Riah, now 17, and her brothers, Enes and Zeren, now 14 and seven, from being tormented. Having the gastric sleeve and slimming down seemed like the best way to do that. It was more for their sake than it was for hers.


Tragically they didn’t see their mum as fat – no matter what others said – but that didn’t stop Tracey from being so conscious about her weight.


She hadn’t always been big. Her weight had spiralled out of control when she was 13, after her dad, Bill, passed away. Struggling to come to terms with losing him, she turned to food for comfort and as the years passed her weight crept up and up. She became used to people doing a double take, staring and smirking as she walked down the street. I often turned around and said ‘Have you finished looking yet?’ as I felt their eyes glued to her. But no matter what she always put on a brave front.


There might not have been tears, but I could always tell she was upset because as soon as we got home out would come five packets of crisps. I tried to help her curb her eating, but it wasn’t any good. ‘Let’s not buy any chocolate or crisps,’ I said to her as I pushed the trolley around the supermarket. ‘We can’t do that,’ Tracey gasped. ‘The children need them for their lunchboxes.’ Even though she was worrying about the weight she would still comfort-eat, it was a vicious circle, which she found too hard to break.


When Tracey first fell pregnant at 29 with Riah her weight had rocketed. She bought her up on her own, until she met Yusuf, now 40, while on holiday in Kusadasi, Turkey. Throughout our stay they were inseparable, after bumping into each other in a bar, and when we flew back to the UK they vowed to keep in touch, Tracey was determined to jet out to see him as much as she could. When Riah was a toddler Tracey even rented an apartment out there for three months, before coming home.


With more than 2,000 miles between them, it wasn’t easy and when she fell pregnant with Enes and had to return to Fulham, West London, she missed Yusuf terribly. Problems securing a visa meant Yusuf wasn’t able to move to be with Tracey until Enes was two. But they spent hours chatting on the phone, meaning their long-distance relationship was very expensive on the bill.


After going on to get married and have Zeren, Yusuf and Tracey eventually called time on their relationship. They couldn’t live with each other as they were both too fiery, but they couldn’t live without each other either, but they stayed friends and still did things as a family. Yusuf even took Tracey to the University College Hospital, London, in January 2008, to have her operation, while I took the children to school and playgroup.


She couldn’t wait for it and was very confident that she was in safe hands. I hadn’t seen her so happy in a long time, after she booked it. ‘Any news?’ I asked the nurse when I called the hospital at lunchtime. I was expecting Tracey to be back on the ward, as the operation was only meant to take two-and-a-half hours. ‘She’s still in theatre,’ she told me. I called over and over again throughout the day, but the response was still the same. Tracey had been scheduled to go in at 9am and by 6pm I still hadn’t got any answers, so I decided to head there myself.


I rushed to the hospital, with Riah, and just as we arrived, Tracey was wheeled into intensive care. She was unable to talk, but came around briefly while we were by her bedside. During the keyhole procedure the surgeon found Tracey’s liver was enlarged and she suffered internal bleeding, so they had to reverse what they had done. Around five litres of fluid were drained from Tracey during the surgery. I felt something wasn’t right but I was reassured that it was probably a tear in the bowel and that it would heal itself.


The next day, Tracey was quite awake, she could just about mumble that she was in agony. Two days later and she was back in intensive care, suffering from a fever. Doctors decided to operate again. Drains were inserted into Tracey’s body during the second surgery – they showed the puncture was in Tracey’s stomach, not her bowel. Poisonous fluids were seeping into her body causing irreparable damage.


Tracey continued to deteriorate and doctors decided to operate for a third time to try and repair the rip, but it was too late. She was attached to a life-support machine, but suffered blood poisoning and multiple organ failure. Sat in a private room surrounded by family and close friends, we were told there was nothing more they could do for Tracey. The next day her life-support machine was going to be switched off.


I knew I had to take the children to see their mum before she passed. They would never have forgiven me if I hadn’t. ‘Mummy’s very, very poorly,’ I said gently to Riah, 12, and Enes, eight, at the time. ‘She’s attached to lots of machines, but they are doing the work so that her body can rest,’ I warned them. I couldn’t tell them the whole truth. They wouldn’t have been able to cope knowing it would be the very last time they would ever see her.


‘Mummy doesn’t look like she can hear you but I’m sure she can so talk to her. Tell her that you love her and that you want her to get better,’ I coaxed. I tried so hard to hold myself together for their sake, but it was heart-breaking. I couldn’t be in the room when they turned off the machine. I wouldn’t have been able to let them. And telling the children their mum wasn’t coming home was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Riah and Enes were distraught. But we had to break the news gradually to Zeren, he was too young to understand. When the doorbell rang or a car pulled up, he would run to the door expecting his mummy to walk through the door.


My daughter left a lasting legacy in her three beautiful children. Each of them still grieves in very different ways for her. Riah was known at school as ‘the girl whose mum died’ and had a very hard time but we sought counselling and got her through it. Enes was left totally angry with the world. He played up so badly at school, they were constantly ringing me and asking me to go and get him. He goes from calm to full-blown temper in two seconds over the slightest thing. But he is also the most loving boy you could ever meet.


Zeren is mischief on legs. He misses his mummy but he doesn’t remember her. The other two have memories of Tracey but he doesn’t. ‘My mummy’s an angel,’ Zeren says if anyone mentions her.


I had always been quite big myself and was knocking a size 22 weighing 13st at one point. I had never dieted and hadn’t consciously decided to slim down, but the stress of losing Tracey made the weight drop off. I wasn’t eating properly and running around after the three children meant I plummeted to just 6st 7lbs. I’m now 7st and a size 8. My dietician even devised special menus for me to help me gain weight. They’re a fat person’s dream. The children have even started to call me ‘Nanna Smurf’ because I’m shrinking.


Days after Tracey passed we were handed a death certificate it said her cause of death was obesity. We refused to accept it, even though we weren’t aware of the extent of the hospital’s mistakes at that point. I didn’t want the children reading that their mum died because she was fat. She could have lived a lot longer at the size she was. It was so insulting.


A coroner later recorded a verdict of accidental adverse healthcare. After relentlessly fighting a four-year legal battle, the NHS Trust involved finally took responsibility and admitted its errors. Medical experts, who reviewed the case, said Tracey’s operation should have been abandoned or converted to open surgery.


The children have been awarded a substantial settlement from the NHS health trust involved. But no amount of money can compensate for the loss of their mum. While the money will help provide for them and allow them to do the things they would like, it will not give them Tracey back. Our family has been torn apart by what was meant to be a simple operation. When you hear the risks associated you just think ‘It won’t happen to me’. I want people to know it does happen… it happened to my daughter.


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