Gaylene Dunne was trying to rescue her cat when her foot became stuck and injured in a cabbage tree. She later died of the injury. Photo/ file
Gaylene Dunne was trying to rescue her cat when her foot became stuck and injured in a cabbage tree. She later died of the injury. Photo/ file

Woman dies after trying to rescue cat from tree

A Wellington woman who died of injuries suffered while trying to rescue her cat from a cabbage tree had been stuck in its branches for up to two hours before she was found.

Gaylene Dunne, 55, died in December 2014 of complications to a muscle injury to her foot after it became stuck where the tree split in two branches in a 'y' shape, a coronial report has ruled.

Her sister has since questioned whether Masterton Hospital's care of Dunne showed enough urgency for her sister's deteriorating condition, however coroner T Scott ruled the hospital's care was adequate.

Her neighbour found her up to two hours after she became stuck.

Dunne told the neighbour she had been trying to rescue her cat, who she lived alone with, when her foot got wedged in the tree.

The neighbour had gone searching for the source of a loud banging noise, which is how she came to find Dunne in the tree half an hour later, banging on a corrugated iron fence in her back garden.

Dunne, her neighbour and a third man were all unable to free her foot from the tree and the fire service and ambulance were called.

When the ambulance arrived shortly after 9pm, Dunne was unable to bear weight on her right leg and her right foot was swollen and bruised, but she otherwise seemed ok.

Then her heart rate became elevated and the level of oxygen in her blood dropped lower than normal.

Because of this, she was taken to Masterton Hospital, where she was kept overnight.

By 1.30am her vital signs were noted as deteriorating. In particular Dunne was short of breath and her inner legs had bruising.

At 7.30am she was transferred by helicopter to Wellington Hospital's ICU, where she died that afternoon.

The coroner's finding ruled her death as a result of 'rhabdomyolosis', a condition where skeletal muscle breaks down rapidly.

The condition can be caused by a crush injury.

Her sister questioned the adequacy of Masterton Hospital's care and whether they had acted in a timely manner in treating her sister.

An investigation by a police forensic inspection monitor was critical of the hospital's record keeping and their underestimation of the shock Dunne had been in but concluded the standard of care was adequate.

The officer said he did not think Dunne being transferred to Wellington Hospital earlier was likely to have changed the outcome.


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