Student died ‘after inhaling two or three bottles of laughing gas a day’

Ellen Mercer
Ellen Mercer had been suffering medical problems in the months before her death - HYDE NEWS AND PICTURES LTD/HNP NEWSDESK

A student was using two to three “big bottles” of laughing gas each day before she died after being taken to hospital unable to walk, a coroner has been told.

Heidi Connor, the senior coroner, told Berkshire coroner’s court on Wednesday that part of Ellen Mercer’s cause of death related to the use of nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas.

A post-mortem examination found Mercer’s death was caused by bilateral pulmonary thromboembolism, deep vein thrombosis and “long-term complications of nitrous oxide use”.

Mercer, 24, a business student from Gerrards Cross, Bucks, died in the emergency department of Wexham Park Hospital, Slough, on Feb 10 2023 after she arrived there complaining that she was unable to walk.

The inquest heard evidence from Michaela Kirtley, an emergency medical technician, who attended Mercer’s home on Feb 8, two days before her death.

When Ms Kirtley, who works for Phoenix Response Services, a contractor for South Central Ambulance Service, arrived, she said, she was shown to the bedroom by Mercer’s boyfriend.

She was a ‘vulnerable person’

She told the inquiry there were no sheets on the bed and just a “severely stained” duvet.

She said the scene made it clear to her that she was dealing with a “vulnerable person” and that the 24-year-old looked six months pregnant.

Mercer told her that she had burnt her legs after spilling a gas canister on them and that she had been unable to walk or go to the toilet for two weeks, Ms Kirtley added.

Mercer’s boyfriend then showed her a box of gas canisters, which she identified as nitrous oxide. “I had never seen such big bottles,” she said.

She told the inquest that the canisters were 600g and that Mercer’s boyfriend said she took “two to three bottles” per day, but had slowed down in the last couple of weeks.

The inquest also heard that Mercer required urgent medical care several times in the months leading up to her death.

At the time of the student’s death, possession of laughing gas with the intent of getting high was not illegal.

It was banned by the Government, and made a Class C drug, in November 2023.

The inquest continues.