The 15-year-old Timothy Fehring, who attended Blackburn High School in Melbourne, died just six days into the overseas school trip on June 28, 2019

A teenage boy tragically died during a school trip to Europe after teachers and doctors wrote off his illness as “homesickness” despite the student’s severe physical deterioration. The 15-year-old Timothy Fehring, who attended Blackburn High School in Melbourne, died just six days into the overseas trip on June 28, 2019.

His death came after he was encouraged to continue participating in planned activities, during which he repeatedly vomited in street bins and struggled to keep up due to his condition. A coroner’s report noted that Timothy died because of an infection in his lungs and blood that likely caused his heart to shut down.

In an email to the school community on Monday, July 25, Principal Joanna Alexander said the ratio of two teachers to 17 students on the trip was in line with 2019 requirements, but the required number of teachers has since been increased. She said the department was “satisfied” by the teachers’ response during the trip, while also extending condolences to the child’s family. “It is important to recognize that this tragedy continues to have a profound impact on all of our school community – students, staff, and parents,” Alexander said.

Timothy was pale and had black bags under his eyes as he struggled to keep up during a walking tour of the Austrian capital Vienna. He was carrying a vomit bag the day before his demise, according to the coroner’s report. “He was very, very sick, but he wanted to soldier on,” devastated mother Barbara Fehring told News Corp. “He had a lot of respect, the way that we taught him about respecting adults. So if someone in authority was to say something to him he would never question it.”

Teachers accompanying Timothy’s group on the trip believed his requests to be taken to the hospital and sent back home were simply to avoid participating in planned activities. This was after a doctor he was taken to see in Germany agreed with the teaching staff that his symptoms — including vomiting and a severe loss of appetite — could be caused by homesickness and constipation. “(One of the teachers) mentioned to the doctor that Tim was homesick, and the doctor confirmed that his symptoms could be connected to this,” Coroner Simon McGregor’s report stated.

Barbara said she was in contact with Timothy and the teachers through text and phone calls, but would have recognized the seriousness of the situation had she seen her son via video call. “These staff members took a group of kids they’d never taught … that they didn’t really know from a bar of soap,” she said. “If they knew him they would have realized he was not the type of child to make a fuss.”

The embattled student was taken to a doctor a second time in Austria before he could fly home, as teachers finally agreed that he should not continue with the trip. However, the 15-year-old collapsed while waiting outside the doctor’s office as the bill was paid. One of the teachers found him unresponsive on the floor with vomit on his clothes and blood coming out of his nose. She texted her colleague calling for help, writing, “Tim is extremely unwell … I am on the first floor outside the doctors. I cannot wake him.” Medics tried to revive the child but couldn’t find a pulse, after which he was airlifted to Vienna Centre for Social Medicine, Paediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). However, Timothy was declared dead shortly after arriving at the hospital.

The coroner’s report concluded that the teachers made the wrong call by deeming that Timothy’s complaints were “not sufficiently serious” to justify him being excused from the afternoon walking tour the day before he died. However, the report also found that staff had complied with the medical protocols they received and were not in a position to save the boy’s life. Coroner McGregor recommended the Department of Education and Training increase the staff-to-student ratio on overseas trips and revisit excursion policies. The department has since accepted both recommendations, news.com.au reported.

 

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