The family of an inspirational nurse who died from organ failure are fighting for answers over his death.
Alex Duncan had toxic levels of a heavy metal found in his body when examined by a pathologist.
But an investigation failed to establish how the 26-year-old became exposed to cadmium – a substance used to make batteries.
Now Alex’s loved ones have demanded a fresh inquiry to establish how he came into contact with the material.
Alex – who worked at Dunfermline’s Queen Margaret Hospital – was found to have 270 units of cadmium in his blood.
The normal level should be below three, medics say.
Mum Chris and dad Ian Duncan told how they waited 14 months for results of a probe by Public Health Scotland, NHS Fife and the Crown Office.
But they have been left frustrated after tests failed to find the source of Alex’s exposure.
They believe that the likely place was at his work due to his reduced movements during the pandemic.
Chris, 66, a retired dentist, said: “He fought hard. He didn’t want to die. He was fit. But Alex’s symptoms were unique, they just couldn’t pin it down.
“I think it was the Thursday before he died when the hospital heard back from a professor in London who asked if they had checked for heavy metals.
“But it was too late by then. When I saw him that day, I knew something had changed because he was getting agitated and angry which wasn’t like him.
“They realised it was being caused by a form of septicemia from bacteria which sparked a mad panic to change all his medical lines in case that’s where it was coming from.
She added: “The consultant spoke to Ian and I and asked would we consider a post mortem on medical grounds because they were so perplexed.
“We said absolutely because he would’ve hated for any one else to have to deal with what he dealt with.
”We had literally just buried Alex when Freya got a phone call from the consultant with the results on the post mortem.
“They had asked specifically to test for heavy metals and the result was severe cadmium toxicity.
“We’ve got a scientific background so we had heard of it. But it’s something that nobody really knows much about.
“It was reported to the Fiscal, Public Health Scotland and the day after the funeral, we were visited by the police.”
Alex was first admitted to the Victoria Hospital, Kirkcaldy but his condition grew worse and he was eventually transferred at Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh where he began blood tests.
He fell ill in August, 2020, and died the following month after spending 15 days in hospital.
A post mortem revealed dangerously high levels of cadmium in his urine with his kidneys damaged by the toxic metal.
Dad Ian, 71, said: “We were all being investigated. The house, the water, the soil, the cats, all his electronics were being investigated.
“But everything came back fine with no trace of cadmium on anything. So we assumed the same thing would be happening at his place of work.
“Because we were in lockdown, the only places Alex was going was home, at work or out with Freya somewhere.
“We waited 14 months to get a report that doesn’t specify anything. And when we asked PHS what tests they carried out at the hospital, we were told ‘oh it was assessed’.
“During a meeting with them, they were beating around the bush and eventually told us that nothing and nobody had been tested.
“There were no questions answered. They said they couldn’t talk about the specifics of Alex’s case because the report is anonymised.
“But they want to use his case to do a report on the effects of cadmium. They say the conclusion was that they don’t think Alex’s case had anything to do with cadmium. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Alex parents asked their GP to test them for cadmium levels and both returned healthy results.
Ian added: “There was no offer of testing for us but we went to our GP and asked.
“We both came back as less than one. Below three is considered negligible and it shouldn’t be above six or seven.
“But Alex’s urine level was more than 270. The machine couldn’t go any higher.”
Alex and his partner Freya Anderson-Ward, 31, decided to get married in the hospital but his organs began to fail and he was soon put into a medically induced coma.
The couple had got engaged in Budapest in 2020 and were due to move in together the same week Alex fell ill.
But he died before the could tie the knot.
Chris said: “Freya and Alex had spoken about getting married in the hospital and she had contacted a registrar. But as she went to leave the hospital, the doctor told her to wait.
“She went down and had a coffee but when she went back up, they pulled her into a side room and told her that Alex’s heart rate had slowed right down so they had to give him CPR.
“They then said that they were going to have to put him in an induced coma and they didn’t know if he would wake up again.
“They asked if she wanted to go speak to him before they put him under. She went and told him she loved him and would be there when he woke up. But he never did.”
Cadmium is a natural metal and has a number of industrial uses and can be found in batteries, alloys, solar cells and as a pigment in paint.
Public Health Scotland confirmed they are working with NHS Fife, who are leading the inquiry.
The health board said they were unable to comment due to the ongoing investigation.
And a spokesperson for Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service said: “We appreciate the impact the time taken to complete death investigations can have on those who have lost a loved one.
“The case team have been in regular contact with the family and will continue to provide updates on any significant developments.”
The family are also calling for Alex’s death certificate – which was produced before the post mortem results were in – to be amended to include cadmium toxicity.
The talented bagpiper previously survived a blood clot on the brain when he was just 18.
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firstname.lastname@example.org (Sarah Vesty)