British Woman Diagnosed with Ischemic Oesophagus, First Mistaken as a Heart Attack

A widow has become the first Briton ever to be diagnosed with an ultra-rare disease after she regurgitated seven pints of vomit that looked like coffee grains.

Doctors initially believed Mary McIntosh, 79, had suffered a heart attack when she complained of chest pains during a GP visit.

She was quickly taken to hospital where she spewed out ‘coffee ground vomitus’ – a name given due to the colour of the liquid.

Ms McIntosh is the first documented person in England to suffer from ischemic oesophagus  – a condition so rare it has only affected only 131 people across the world in the past 50 years.

Doctors’ limited knowledge of the disease meant Ms McIntosh was given no treatment for a week.

Unclear diagnosis 

Ms McIntosh, of Oldham, Greater Manchester, said: ‘They had no idea because they have never come across it.

‘I think it is just something that happens and they don’t know why, at first I just thought I was having heartburn from something I ate.

‘It was funny because the doctors kept taking pictures of my sick and going through it because they’d never seen anything like it before.’ 

Mistaken for a heart attack 

Ms McIntosh’s, a retired factory worker, ordeal began when she visited her local GP surgery for routine blood tests on May 2.

During the test, she started getting chest pains and was rushed to hospital with a suspected heart attack.

The widowed mother-of-three was sent to Royal Oldham Hospital where examinations of her oesophagus revealed she had the condition. 

Doctors then set about trying to contact people from around the world to find out more about the disorder. 

Support of her daughters 

After 10 days Ms McIntosh’s condition improved and she was deemed well enough to go home with the help of her three daughters. 

She said: ‘It seems to be much better now and I can eat a bit. The doctors are hoping that it the illness is completely gone.

‘I’m glad to be home now so that I can build up my strength.’

Her eldest daughter Carol Coyle, 57, a nurse who lives in Sydney, flew back to England to care for her mother while she rested.

Ms Coyle said: ‘Mum is a true fighter and she would have overcome anything, but with this illness though she was very lucky to get out the other side.

‘She would do anything for me and my two other sisters, she worked lots of jobs before she retired.

‘She always says “as long as my beautiful girls are ok then I’m fine” – and never asks us for anything – she’s a very stubborn proud lady.’

Ms Coyle added that she was alarmed when doctors could not tell her what the problem was.

She said: ‘I said to them what is it and they said “we can’t answer that”, which was quite frightening really.


‘I asked what happens next and the doctor looked at me and said they have contacted people around the world to find out – she is special.’ 

‘Being a nurse myself, I spoke to a doctor at the hospital where I work in New South Wales and he told me when it comes down to the treatment of it – it’s all trial and error because it is so rare.’  

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Filed Under: Insights, Patient Stories


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