The heartbroken parents of a “fit and healthy” 15-year-old boy who died on a school trip in Germany said more should have been done to prevent his death.
It was meant to be the “trip of a lifetime”, but Blackburn High School student Timothy Fehring never made it home.
There were two staff members chaperoning the 17 students on the 2019 Europe trip, with Timothy’s death a week in prompting an overhaul of school staffing requirements on international tours.
After departing Melbourne and arriving in Berlin on June 23, Timothy instantly became ill, texting his mum: “I almost threw up and am working on getting better so I can have a better time.”
His parents, Barbara and Dale Fehring said their son was never one to complain, and rejected claims he was simply “homesick” before his death.
“He was a super fit and healthy child and he would never want to make a fuss or bring attention to himself,” Barbra told 9News.
‘Fit’ teen’s health quickly declines
Timothy persisted with activities but became violently ill, vomiting in bins on excursions and eating very little on the first two days of his trip.
A teacher took him to a chemist and he was given medication after explaining his symptoms. He woke up the next day and asked his mother to get him home.
“He expressed dissatisfaction about how he was being treated,” the coroner’s findings state.
The 15-year-old was taken to Munich Children’s Hospital and “thoroughly examined” by a doctor, who diagnosed his illness as a combination of homesickness, constipation and gastroenteritis .
The staff member mentioned to the doctor that Tim was homesick, and the doctor said his symptoms could be connected to this.
After six hours, Tim left the hospital with the staff member.
On June 27, the group travelled to Vienna, Austria and went on a walking tour of the city that Timothy participated in despite asking not to go.
The coroner’s findings state he carried a “vomit bag”, walked slowly and looked tired. Timothy asked to go back to the hospital, but staff denied this request.
After vomiting his dinner that night, the staff contacted Timothy’s parents and arrangements were made for him to fly home.
The next day, Timothy was taken to see a GP to secure a fit-to-travel certificate so he could make the journey home alone on June 29.
He was found unresponsive on the ground with blood trickling from his nose after walking into the hallway to get some air.
He was hospitalised but died on June 28.
An autopsy revealed he had a “highly acute” infection in his stomach and lungs, and had a heart attack.
‘He wasn’t homesick’: Parents demanding change
The Fehrings said they were not made aware of how sick their son was. They are calling for a change in teacher and student ratios for overseas trips.
Barbra acknowledged staff on the trip were first-aid trained but said a better understanding of the students could’ve saved her son.
“All he ever wanted to do was please everyone,” she said.
“When he said he was sick and said something wasn’t right, that was the truth.
“No one was being his advocate, we think it’s important to have more adults to student ratios.
The Melbourne mum said a school nurse would’ve had a better understanding of her son’s health and could have helped save Timothy’s life.
“They would have picked up on the signs quicker and we wouldn’t be here today,” she said.
Coroner Simon McGregor called on the Department of Education and Training to increase the staff to student ratios on international trips in his findings.
His second recommendation was to ensure there were enough resources in the event of somebody falling ill.
“With the benefit of hindsight, staff made the wrong judgement call that Tim’s complaints were not sufficiently serious,” McGregor commented.
The department said changes have been made and a group the size that Tim was in would now require three adults.
The Fehrings are still mourning the death of their boy.
“Children shouldn’t die, this is so tragic,” father Dale said.
“It hits you hard and it has been a hard three years. We have tried to cope.”