‘Wonderful’ husband died after choking on steak during romantic meal with wife

A “wonderful” husband died after choking on a piece of steak during a meal at a restaurant with his wife, an inquest heard.

Mark Higham, 60, was dining out with his wife Lynne on the evening of August 27, 2020, when he began struggling to breathe as he choked on the meat.

Mrs Higham took her husband to the bathroom of the restaurant and slapped him on the back and did finger sweep of his mouth to try and free the blocked food, Bolton Coroner’s Court.

She told the court that he ordered steak and had eaten between three and four mouthfuls, before starting to choke.

Mrs Higham also said she tried to perform the Heimlich Manoeuvre but unfortunately was not “strong enough”.

After calling for help, various members of staff at Gallimore’s Fine Restaurant, in Wigan, tried to assist Mrs Higham by slapping her husband’s back and eventually giving him CPR.

Paramedic Lee Hardman arrived at the scene at around 9.18pm.

He told the court that he was satisfied with the CPR that was already being given to Mr Higham by a member of restaurant staff, so he tried to find the piece of food that had got stuck.

He said that he had brought Magill forceps with him, which are used to remove foreign bodies from people’s throats.

However, Mr Hardman said he couldn’t see anything stuck.

Mr Higham entered into cardiac arrest and was taken to the Royal Albert Edward Infirmary, where he was pronounced dead a few hours later.

Dr Rafat Saad, the lead clinician in intensive care, said that he managed to remove a small piece of food from Mr Higham’s windpipe, which would have been too far down to have been seen by Mr Hardman.

Pathologist Dr Emil Salmo carried out a post-mortem and confirmed the cause of death was ‘choking on food’.

Earlier in the hearing, Mrs Higham told the court that her husband had suffered a number of strokes, including a major one in 2017, and had Parkinson’s disease.

Dr Salmo told the court that people with Parkinson’s disease can be ‘susceptible’ to choking.

The previous strokes and Mr Higham’s condition were recorded as a contributory factor towards his death.

John Gallimore, the owner of Gallimore’s Fine Restaurant, said 12 members of staff had completed a first aid course provided by professional physiotherapist Russell Hitchen.

He praised the course as said that it was useful because it had focused on what do in situations relevant to a restaurant environment – such as choking.

On the night of the incident, Mr Gallimore said two of the restaurant’s designated first-aiders had been working.

He told the court that he did not believe his staff or himself could have done any more to help Mr Higham.

Mr Gallimore added: “It was a terrible night for everybody”.

Assistant coroner for Manchester West, Simon Nelson, recorded a conclusion of accidental death.

He said: “Against a background of increasing frailty and physical health, following a major stroke in 2017, the deceased accidentally choked on a bolus of food, ingested at a local restaurant in Wigan.

“Notwithstanding extensive emergency care given by both staff and paramedics at the scene, he was conveyed to the Royal Albert Edward Infirmary Wigan, where the fact of his death was confirmed at 3.25am on August 28.”

During the hearing, Mrs Higham paid tribute to her ‘wonderful’ husband.

She told the court he had grown up in the Whitley area and had attended Wigan Grammar, before going on to study Electrical Engineering at Imperial College London.

He worked as a chartered electrical engineer, before his retirement due to ill health in around 2013.

Mrs Higham said: “He was just a kind, wonderful father and husband. He was looking forward to being a grandfather.

“He loved to go on holiday three to four times a year and he liked his steam trains.”

Speaking about the night of the incident, she added: “I’m still reliving it everyday”.

Mr Gallimore also noted that nobody he had spoken to about Mr Higham had a bad word to say about him.

At the conclusion of the inquest, Mr Nelson added: “From everything I have heard and read, I have no doubt in my mind that Mr Higham was a very, very fine individual.”