Rowan Stringer's brain wasn't healed from previous concussions, surgeon says

Ottawa teen Rowan Stringer's brain had not healed from two previous concussions in the week before her death, leading to a "rare and quite severe" head injury, a surgeon told the coroner's inquest into her rugby-related death.

Stringer, 17, died in 2013 after multiple head injuries, called Second Impact Syndrome

Healthcare workers testify on Rowan Stringer's death

7 years ago
Duration 2:26
The paramedic and surgeon each recounted trying to save Rowan Stringer's life.

Rowan Stringer's brain was not healed and had not rested properly from two previous concussions when she suffered a serious and ultimately fatal head blow, a surgeon told the coroner's inquest today.

Stringer, 17, died on May 12, 2013, after suffering multiple head injuries while playing high school rugby.

The John McCrae Secondary School student had stayed awake for a few moments after sitting up from the hit, then fell unconscious. She was taken to hospital where doctors tried unsuccessfully to relieve the pressure in her head.

She would die from Second Impact Syndrome, where a pre-existing injury followed by another head blow can cause death. Stringer had been tackled hard during a game four days before, hitting her head and neck on the ground.​

Stringer's injury 'rare and quite severe'

Dr. Michael Vassilyadi, testifying Thursday, began describing his efforts at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, where he tried to save Stringer's life.

Ottawa high school student Rowan Stringer died at 17 on May 8, 2013 when she was tackled hard during a rugby game. On Tuesday, Ontario passed concussion safety legislation designed to protect amateur athletes and educate coaches about the dangers of head injuries. (Facebook)
Vassilyadi said Stringer's pupils were dilated and she was given medication to reduce the pressure in her brain, which did help. Soon after though, the prognosis was "very bad," the surgeon added.

Vassilyadi said Stringer's brain had not healed or rested from the previous two concussions over less than a week, leaving a "rare and quite severe" head injury. 

Stringer is the only case of Second Impact Syndrome that Vassilyadi has witnessed, he added.

Vassilyadi said she would have been on ventilation and using feeding tubes if she survived. Her parents then made the difficult decision to remove Stringer's organs for donation, as she had previously wanted, he said.

Paramedic said he couldn't relieve swelling

Earlier Thursday paramedic Martin Tessier testified he could not relieve the swelling in Stringer's brain at the field and said she read very poorly on the Glasgow Coma test.

Ottawa paramedic Martin Tessier testified on Thursday, May 21, 2015 about the day he responded to Rowan Stringer's severe head injury, which later took her life. (CBC)
"No doubt it was a serious injury," Tessier told the inquest.

At the end of his testimony, Rowan Stringer's father Gordon stood up and thanked Tessier for trying to save his daughter's life. Stringer said he and his wife had waited a long time to express their gratitude.

"We never had a face or a name to that person," he said. "It was something we always wanted to do and this was the chance, and it had to done."

Mom pushes for concussion education

Earlier in the week, the inquest heard testimony from the teen's friend Matt James, her mother Kathleen Stringer, as well as a driving test administrator and high school teacher.

Kathleen Stringer said she does not want children to be scared away from rugby due to her daughter's death, but instead she wants mandatory concussion lessons as early as Grade 9.

Driving test administrator Walter Kuiper also told the inquest Rowan Stringer made several errors in judgment during her road test, which was taken after she had suffered serious head blows. The errors included driving too close to cars, being slow to react, passing too closely and driving in the middle of the road.

Kathleen Stringer, left, and her husband Gordon are parents of Rowan Stringer, the 17-year-old rugby player who died from Second Impact Syndrome after multiple concussions in a short period of time. (CBC)
The inquest began on Tuesday at Ottawa City Hall with three witnesses, including former CFL quarterback Matt Dunigan and two of Stringer's friends, Michelle Hebert and Judy Larabie.

Hebert testified she received texts from Stringer brushing off any head injury concerns before her final game, including, "nothing would stop me unless I'm dead" and "what's some brain damage gonna hurt."

Larabie fought back tears as she testified that Stringer took pride in her injuries, calling them "warrior wounds."

The inquest into Stringer's death is examining the circumstances surrounding her death, including areas of head injury recognition in high school field sports. The jury may make recommendations aimed at preventing similar deaths.​​


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?