Doctors thought my son had an ear infection — it was a deadly brain tumor

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A UK teen’s presumed ear infection turned out to be an extremely aggressive brain tumor that tragically killed him soon after it was discovered.

Now Claire Kavanagh is urging fellow parents to take every symptom seriously after losing her “fit [and] healthy” 19-year-old son who loved to play soccer and socialize with friends.

“Losing him has destroyed my life,” Kavanagh, from Suffolk, England, told South West News Service. “I don’t want other families to endure the same heartbreak.”

Niall Kavanagh sought medical help after collapsing at a football game in September 2021.

“He actually went to see out-of-hours doctors at Addenbrooke’s Hospital on two consecutive Saturdays,” his distraught mom recalled. “But he was looked over and sent home with a suspected virus or ear infection.”

 Claire Kavanagh with a photo of son Niall at a race day held in his honor last year.
Claire Kavanagh is advocating for more brain tumor research.
Brain Tumour Research / SWNS

Kavanagh said that his symptoms quickly worsened. Her usually active and articulate son started forgetting that he’d spoken to her.

She made him a doctor’s appointment — but he never made it there.

Niall’s condition rapidly deteriorated to the point where he was unable to walk or talk, prompting his family to rush him to the hospital.

“Niall’s brother went over to his house … and called to tell me there was something wrong, and he was going to put him to bed,” Kavanagh recounted.

“When I got there, Niall was conscious and sat up gesturing, but he couldn’t speak,” she continued.

“In the end, we lifted him into the car and drove him to Addenbrooke’s ourselves. He couldn’t walk or talk, and the staff there thought he’d taken something.”

Niall Kavanagh in hospital gown.
Niall Kavanagh tragically never recovered from his second procedure.
Brain Tumour Research / SWNS

A scan in October 2021 revealed a lesion on his brain.

Kavanagh said doctors feared he wouldn’t survive emergency surgery because they had “never seen anything aggressive as Niall’s brain tumor.”

The mom of three said she went home to tell her other sons they needed to say goodbye to Niall.

“It left us with almost no hope,” she remembered.

Miraculously, Niall did recover, and for three weeks he was able to talk, use his phone and breathe on his own.

Niall Kavanagh.
Niall died at only 19 from an aggressive brain tumor.
Brain Tumour Research / SWNS

However, he failed to regain consciousness after a procedure to remove a shunt from his head.

“He was returned to the ICU, and when I saw him the following morning, he wasn’t responding like he had before,” the grieving mom said.

“He just gradually faded after that. I was told Niall’s brain was swelling, and they couldn’t do anything to stop it,” she continued. “Essentially, he was dying.”

The teenager passed away on Nov. 1, 2021.

Claire Kavanagh with sons Ryan and Conal  dressed u[ in suits.
Claire Kavanagh with sons Ryan and Conal at a race day held in Niall’s honor last year.
Brain Tumour Research / SWNS

The devastated mom believes if her son hadn’t initially been misdiagnosed, his life could have been saved. She is supporting a petition calling for government funding to expand brain cancer research.

“I’ve signed the petition and encourage others to as well because money for brain tumor research is so desperately needed,” Kavanagh said.

Charlie Allsebrook, community development manager for Brain Tumour Research, said “what happened to Niall is a tragedy. To lose somebody so young and so quickly is devastating.”

He added: “For too long governments have put brain tumors on the ‘too difficult to think about’ pile.”

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