Doctor took her own life after two bouts of COVID devastated her health

·3-min read
Dr Fiona Denison took her own life after the trauma of being hospitalised with COVID left her with severe mental health problems (SWNS)
Dr Fiona Denison took her own life after the trauma of being hospitalised with COVID left her with severe mental health problems (SWNS)

An academic took her own life after the trauma of being hospitalised for COVID left her with depression and anxiety.

Professor Fiona Denison, 51, an honorary consultant obstetrician at NHS Lothian, died last Saturday, days after an operation that she hoped would improve her health was postponed due to her contracting COVID for the second time.

The mother-of-two won awards for research into reproductive medicine which "changed health outcomes for mothers and babies in Scotland and beyond".

She was described as a "charming, gentle and caring" doctor, who created a mirror to help with water births, and worked to prevent stillbirths with peers in Uganda. She was also professor of translational obstetrics at the University of Edinburgh. 

In March 2020 Denison became seriously ill with COVID, suffering respiratory complications and breathing difficulties.

She was admitted to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and treated in isolation for several days but the experience left her with flashbacks and anxiety. She was diagnosed with acute stress disorder which developed into severe depression. Subsequent medication to treat her depression led to digestive problems for which she was due to have surgery at the start of January.

Professor Fiona Denison died on Saturday, days after an operation that she hoped would improve her health was postponed due to her contracting COVID for the second time (SWNS)
Professor Fiona Denison died on Saturday, days after an operation that she hoped would improve her health was postponed due to her contracting COVID for the second time (SWNS)

Her husband, Gordon Taylor, said his wife would have wanted the full circumstances of her death to be known, so that others might learn from her experience.

He said: "Ultimately, she was diagnosed as a suicide risk and admitted to the Royal Edinburgh Hospital in summer 2020.

"It was during her treatment there that she discovered the therapeutic benefits of art which blossomed into the beautiful paintings with which she delighted friends and family.

"Her condition improved and she was able to return home but COVID took another toll on her health by exacerbating a pre-existing condition she had with her digestive system which was also impacted by the medication she was taking to help with her depression.

"If Fiona's story is able to shine another light on the critical importance of mental health and, through this, help others, then she would feel that a fitting legacy alongside the huge contribution she made through her clinical and medical research roles, as well as in her private life."

He said surgery to try to improve Denison's digestive problems did not resolve her difficulties and she was unable to return to her clinical work, which had a devastating effect on her mental health.

A general view of the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. Details of the private finance initiative which financed it will be desclosed to the public, Scotland`s information watchdog has ruled.
Professor Fiona Denison, 51, was admitted to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary in March 2020 with coronavirus, then in the summer as a suicide risk due to depression brought on by effects of the virus (Getty)

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"Being re-admitted to hospital was traumatic as it brought back all the memories of struggling to breathe while in isolation," he said.

"She had been steeling herself for the operation given the traumatic memories a return to the hospital environment held for her but was also hopeful that this would be a positive step forwards. She expressed to friends and family, 'It seems I never catch a break'."

Denison took her own life on Saturday evening.

Her husband said: "Fiona's suicide is a stark reminder that mental health is a very fragile and fast-changing thing and mental illness can be devastating even when well-supported by family, friends and professional services."

She leaves behind a sons James and David, and a "wonderfully supportive legion of wider family, friends and colleagues who are heartbroken by her loss and will love and miss her always".

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