Teen rugby player dies after suffering head injury in game

Rowan Stringer, a 17-year-old John McRae Secondary School student in Ottawa, has died following a severe head injury she sustained during a rugby game last week.

Rowan Stringer, 17, was captain of the rugby team at Ottawa's John McCrae high school

Parents remember Rowan Stringer

10 years ago
Duration 3:19
Rowan Stringer's parents wonder what role two other injuries may have played in her death.

A 17-year-old John McCrae Secondary School student in Ottawa has died following a severe head injury she sustained during a rugby game last week.

Rowan Stringer, 17, died Sunday night after suffering severe head trauma during a high school rugby game on Wednesday last week. (Family photo)

Rowan Stringer was captain of the high school rugby team this year, her second as a member, said her father, Gordon Stringer. She also played in a Barrhaven rugby club last summer after school ended and was planning to join again this summer.

The teen was tackled hard during a game on Wednesday, flew through the air and hit her head and neck on the ground, Stringer said. Rowan stayed awake for a few moments after sitting up, then slipped into unconsciousness.

She never woke up.

Rowan was taken to hospital, where doctors tried unsuccessfully to relieve the pressure in her head.

She died on Sunday night after her family decided to discontinue life support the previous day.

Player had been hit in the head twice before fatal tackle, parents say

Rowan's parents, Gordon and Kathleen Stringer, told CBC News Monday that Rowan told them she'd been hit in the head in a game a week before the fatal tackle, and that she took a pain reliever afterward for a headache.

Then, just two days before the fatal injury, she was hit in the head during a game once more, her parents said. This time, she told her friends about it, but didn't tell her parents.

The Stringers said doctors are looking into the possibility that Rowan suffered a smaller head injury that could have contributed to the severity of the second.

The family authorized an autopsy to find out more about what exactly happened to Rowan.

The Stringers said they're not looking to assign any blame. Instead, they're hoping her story can help educate others.

"We're hoping that we can educate and teach them that playing a high school sport game is never more important than taking care of yourself," Kathleen Stringer said.

Kathleen Stringer said she spoke to a doctor at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario about the idea of creating a pre-game checklist for students to fill out, which might catch situations like this in the future.

Organs donated

Rowan's family decided to donate her organs, partly because of her interest in nursing and helping children. She had been accepted into the University of Ottawa's nursing program.

Her lungs were sent to help a 20-year-old woman in Toronto, Rowan's father said.

Her kidneys went to The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. Her pancreas was also sent to Toronto.

Her liver was sent to London, Ont., and her heart stayed in Ottawa, Gordon Stringer said.

Ottawa-Carleton District School Board CEO Jennifer Adams said Monday that the board will help Rowan's family spread information about concussions and organ donation.

Grief counselling available at high school

In a statement, the OCDSB said a crisis management team was in place Monday at John McCrae for students and staff.

The game was stopped after the injury. No sports were played at John McCrae on Monday, and have been cancelled for Tuesday as well, according to the statement.

"She was a wonderful girl, and she'll be sorely missed at John McCrae," said principal Tom Schultz.

No memorial had yet been planned Monday.

Friends and acquaintances of the teen took to the web to express their grief.

"Don't know how I'm going to walk into French class. It will not be complete," said one Twitter user.

"[A] spirit like yours never dies, love you to the moon and back," wrote another.