Bodybuilding Champ Died At 39 After Contracting Sepsis Through Using Cocaine

A bodybuilding champion died from sepsis aged just 39 after he contracted the virus through his secret use of cocaine, an inquest heard.

Fit and healthy Darren Vernon had been admitted to hospital with the deadly infection after complaining of stomach cramps and fever.

But despite being asked whether he had taken anything, the dad of two never told doctors he had ingested the Class A drug.

Mr Vernon's condition deteriorated and he died six hours later. Doctors subsequently discovered he had traces of cocaine in his system, which caused bacteria to poison his bloodstream. His family knew nothing of his drug taking.

Credit: Cavendish Press
Credit: Cavendish Press

Mr Vernon, an architect from Blackley, Manchester who attained a First Class Honours degree, began bodybuilding when he was 16 and subsequently entered a series of competitions including Mr Universe.

He won titles in natural body building for the British National Bodybuilding Federation in Glasgow and went on to become world champion for the International Fitness and Physique Association in Washington, D.C.

But tragedy struck in July last year when was he admitted to A&E at North Manchester General Hospital with severe stomach cramps and fever just days after another contest - and just 48 hours after he celebrated his 39th birthday.

His mother Audrey Parris told the Manchester hearing: ''I last spoke to him on his birthday. The next day he thought he was coming down with something flu-like but at around 8:45pm that evening his partner was so worried she called an ambulance.

''At around 3am the following morning she called me from Darren's phone and I could hear him in the background and his breathing sounded funny. She said she would keep me in the loop but the next call I got was at about 4am and I said 'is that my son I can hear in the background?', all I could hear was him wailing, the noise that he made made me so concerned.

''I know my son was dying, nothing could have made him make that noise. I got the impression that staff only acted quickly when there was significant deterioration and then it was too late.''

Credit: Cavendish Press
Credit: Cavendish Press

She added: ''He did a competition on the Saturday before he died, it was the first one he had done for quite some time. Even when he was not competing, he would still go to the gym about three times a week, that was his main passion. He was a fit and healthy man.

''As far as I know he smoked cannabis on a weekly basis but he only ever drank on social occasions, I have never known him to take any other drugs.''

Dr James Butler Consultant in Emergency Medicine at North Manchester General Hospital said doctors tested Mr Vernon's chest, heart and bowel - results came back normal - but they became concerned about blood tests which showed abnormal liver function and a low white blood cell count.

Dr Butler added: ''It was clear that there was something wrong but not exactly what it was. It was suspected that he had sepsis but staff did not know where it was coming from.

''He had ongoing pain and was asked specifically about drug use on a number of occasions and as he was a bodybuilder he was asked specifically about steroids - but no use of drugs were mentioned.

"Throughout the time in hospital he was asked if he had taken any drugs and he denied it.''

Mr Vernon was given anti-biotics but his condition deteriorated and he was moved to intensive care when he suffered a fatal cardiac arrest.

Dr Butler said: ''Even if we had known he had taken cocaine, the treatment would not have changed, he was given the right treatment for presentation of sepsis and was also treated for shock.

"But it would have been useful to know about the cocaine as that may have changed when intensive care staff approached the situation. But ultimately treatment would have been the same.

''A now recognised feature of cocaine use is that is allows bacteria to enter the bloodstream. This is not a common thing that staff has seen in the hospital and we will now put this into our education to our juniors and put it across the whole NHS Trust.

"The staff who were there that night did the right thing. I would like to think it could have been done quicker but I do not think that that would have changed the outcome.

''The staff were really upset, that is fairly significant for professionals to feel that way, they had analysed everything they were doing. His temperature came down, his heart rate was normal, the staff were dealing with a very seriously ill man who may have looked like he was getting better.''

Credit: Cavendish Press
Credit: Cavendish Press

Pathologist Dr Emyr Benbow recorded the cause of death as sepsis due to misuse of cocaine.

He said: ''There is a significant association between sepsis and the usage of cocaine. Bacteria may have entered the bloodstream from the intestine which is an effect of cocaine use.''

Recording a conclusion of drug related death, coroner Jean Harkin said: "The evidence regarding cocaine use has come as a shock and equally so has the death of a very fit and healthy 39-year-old."

In a tribute to Mr Vernon on the GoFundMe website, a friend said: ''He was a world class dad and an amazing partner, son, brother, uncle, nephew, cousin, grandson and not forgetting a world class friend and a true inspiration to so many.

''Because of his pure love and dedication to the gym he became an inspiration to so many and spent a lot of his time helping and encouraging others. This saw Darren become a massive pillar in his community as well as inspiring people across the nation and even worldwide.''

His mother told the Manchester Evening News: "He stood out from the crowd and had an aura around him. Throughout his whole life he was remarkable. His passing shocked me but I think subconsciously I was expecting it - he crammed so much into his 39 years.

"He was not tall but he was a giant of a man. He had the words 'everything happens for a reason' tattooed on his body in Latin, and it was a phrase he used a lot. He was light years ahead of everyone else."

Featured Image Credit: Cavendish Press

Rebecca Shepherd

Rebecca Shepherd is a Journalist at LADbible. She graduated from the University of Central Lancashire with a First Class BA in Journalism. Becky previously worked as Chief Reporter at Cavendish Press, supplying news and feature stories to national newspapers and women's magazines.

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