Ottawa

Rowan Stringer's rugby death inquest hears injuries should be tracked

The referee who officiated the high school rugby match that led to Rowan Stringer's fatal head injury said there is "no solid process in place" to ensure that there is a follow-up on suspected or real concussions.

Stringer, 17, died from Second Impact Syndrome after 3 concurrent concussions in less than a week

There needs to be a system for tracking injuries, a rugby referee told the Rowan Stringer inquest. 3:02

There is "no solid process in place" to ensure athletes follow up on suspected or real concussions, according to the rugby referee who was officiating when Rowan Stringer suffered a fatal head injury.

Jim Carr continued his testimony on Friday at the coroner's inquest into Stringer's death. 

Carr said he would like to see high school level referees flag concussions on score sheets at the end of each game, which would then allow school boards to create databases to track injured players.

"Concussions are nebulous," he said. "You can't see them and players don't own up to them."

He also said high school referees often do not have much experience — and should be "stopping play and awarding penalties more than they do."

Carr, who has officiated in rugby for more than 20 years, said he did not see the benefit of introducing hardened equipment into the game, such as soft-padded helmet.

Jim Carr officiated the high school rugby match in May 2013 when Rowan Stringer suffered a fatal head blow. Carr testified at the coroner's inquest into Stringer's death about the blow and how players don't self-report concussions. (CBC)
The veteran official began his testimony on Thursday, describing a series of dangerous tackles during the rugby match on May 8, 2013 between students at John McRae Secondary School and St. Joseph's Catholic High School.

Carr remembered multiple players going to the ground after a hard collision, before looking over and seeing Stringer, 17, lying down unconscious.

Witnesses have said she stayed awake for a few moments after sitting up from the hit, and then fell unconscious. She was taken to hospital where doctors tried unsuccessfully to relieve the pressure in her head.

Stringer, who had suffered three concussions in less than a week, died four days later.

She would die from Second Impact Syndrome, where a pre-existing injury followed by another head blow can cause death.

Brain didn't heal or rest after earlier concussions

Dr. Michael Vassilyadi, a neurosurgeon at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, testified Thursday that Stringer was the first and only case of Second Impact Syndrome he has ever treated.

Vassilyadi said Stringer's brain had not healed or rested after two previous concussions causing a "rare and quite severe" head injury.

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)
Earlier in the week, the inquest heard testimony from several friends of Rowan Stringer, her high school teacher and rugby coach, a driving test administrator, former CFL quarterback Matt Dunigan and Stringer's mother Kathleen.

Kathleen Stringer said she hopes this inquest pushes schools to instill mandatory concussion education in Grade 9 to help students learn more about the dangers of head injuries.

Rowan Stringer's friend, Michelle Hebert, testified on the inquest's first day that she received texts from Stringer brushing off any head injury concerns before her final game.

They included messages like, "nothing would stop me unless I'm dead" and "what's some brain damage gonna hurt."

The inquest into Stringer's death, which resumes on Monday, 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.​​

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