A woman died from a massive allergic reaction that could have been caused by the glue in her hair extensions, a pathologist said yesterday. Atasha Graham, 34 who had used hair extensions for 14 years, collapsed after clubbing until the early hours.
Home Office pathologist Michael Heath told the inquest into her death that the latex glue used to apply her extensions – or the solvent for removing old ones – may have been to blame.
He added: ‘I’ve seen cases where people using solvent to apply extensions has actually caused anaphylactic shock. There are about ten to 20 deaths a year in this country, many more in America. I have seen four in the last three months.’
Dr Heath told the hearing at Southwark Coroner’s Court in London: ‘The hair extensions in Atasha’s hair were of a latex type. This may or may not be related [to her death]. If it is the hair extension, normally a reaction would occur within half an hour of applying them.’
But he added that traces of glue or solvent could have seeped into her bloodstream hours later after she started perspiring on the dancefloor. He ruled out reactions to food and alcohol and said there were no drugs in her system.
On May 15 last year, Jamaican-born Miss Graham had been dancing at a club where her boyfriend, Fenton Johnson, was the DJ.Mr Johnson said Miss Graham, one of nine children, was fine until she stepped through the doorway of their home in Lee, south-east London, at 6.30am, then suddenly collapsed and stopped breathing.
He called an ambulance and tried to resuscitate her as 999 operators gave him first aid instructions over the phone. But she never properly regained consciousness and died later in hospital.
A post-mortem failed to find any abnormalities with her organs or substances which could have caused her death
Her younger brother Carlus, who attended the inquest with his wife Marsha, said: ‘This is the most frustrating thing of all. We still don’t know what happened.’
The inquest heard Ms Graham had been drinking Hennessy brandy and Red Bull hours before she died, but only had a moderate amount of alcohol in her body which could not have caused her death.
Dr Heath did not find any kind of drugs or substances in her body.
Southwark Coroner’s Court: Coroner Christopher Williams recorded a verdict of death by natural causes as he said it was not possible to identify a clear link with a particular allergen that caused Ms Graham’s body to go into shock
Jamaican-born Ms Graham, who had eaten takeaway jerk pork and Chinese before going out, did not have any history of food allergies.
Dr Heath said an allergic reaction to food would normally occur within half an hour of consumption so he did not think it could have been anything she ate.
He then examined a hair piece Ms Graham wore to see if there could have been an allergic reaction to the latex glue used to attach it to her natural hair.But the pathologist said he would expect an allergic reaction to occur shortly after the glue was applied and Atasha had been wearing extensions, which she got done in salons, since the age of 20. The hair used in hair extensions may have caused the death of Atasha Graham
After lengthy discussions with experts the pathologist said he was certain the cause of death was anaphylactic shock as the level of tryptase, which occurs naturally in the body during an allergic reaction, was 178 micrograms per litre of blood – up to 25 times higher than the normal amount of between two and 14 micrograms per litre. However, he said he could not pinpoint exactly what was the trigger was.
Dr Heath added: ‘The diagnosis is correct, but I am not sure what triggered it.If she had recovered we could have carried out tests, but the situation we have, tragically, we cannot take it any further.
Coroner Christopher Williams recorded a verdict of death by natural causes as he said it was not possible to identify conclusively a link with a particular allergen that caused her to go into shock. He said: ‘She had an allergic reaction to something as the level of tryptase in her body was 178 micrograms, but we are not able to identify what the specific agent was that that caused this reaction.
‘Speaking afterwards, Mr Johnson, Ms Graham’s partner of two years with whom she had been trying to have a baby, described her as a ‘wonderful person’ who helped him turn his life around. Mr Johnson said: ‘She changed me a lot. It’s so shocking this could have happened. I still have to keep looking at pictures of her on my phone.’
Ms Graham’s brother, Carlus, 32, added: ‘She was such a nice person. She loved kids. She was fun-loving. ‘She just enjoyed her life, enjoyed doing what made her happy. ‘I was younger than her by two years, but we were like twins. She even taught me how to read and write. ‘The last time I spoke to her was the Friday before this happened. I remember her every day.’