Topsham: rugby player’s death ruled an accident

PUBLISHED: 14:54 26 April 2017 | UPDATED: 14:54 26 April 2017

Lily Partridge

Lily Partridge

Archant

An inquest into the death of Topsham rugby player Lily Partridge has concluded the 22-year-old’s death was accidental

A young Topsham female rugby player collapsed with a fatal head wound minutes after an opponent’s knee hit her head.

Lily Partridge complained of a ‘headache’ and came off the pitch but tragically she collapsed with a heart attack and never regained consciousness.

After an inquest into her death, Lily’s called for compulsory medical tests for players suffering head injuries.

Lily, 22, was fatally injured during a Devon training session after a tackle when an opponent’s knee hit her head.

Front row forward Lily collapsed on the side of the pitch and died a day later in an Exeter hospital.

Lily, a zookeeper at Shaldon Wildlife Trust, carried two organ donor cards on her – and she has helped save the lives of scores of strangers with her transplanted organs and tissue.

An inquest in Exeter, Devon, recorded a conclusion that her death in December 2015 was the result of an accident.

After the hearing, her heartbroken parents Jeff and Liz urged players to have brain scans if suffer any head injury during matches.

The 61 year old couple, from Exeter, Devon, said: “Lily loved playing rugby and her dream was to represent Devon.

“She was the victim of a tragic accident.

“No one is to blame for what happened to her.

“Rugby is a hard game and Lily took all the precautions to protect herself when playing.

“She had suffered a couple of concussions earlier in the year but had seen her GP and had followed the RFU protocols in taking time off not playing.

“A brain scan may have spotted any weakness caused by those head injuries.

“If we had known that her life may be in danger by playing rugby again, obviously she would have stopped immediately.

“Lily wore all the right gear when she played – the scrumcap, mouth guard and so on – but that wasn’t enough to save her.

“In her final match she felt dizzy and came off the pitch feeling unwell after a minor contact with another player. But she collapsed on the sidelines and never recovered.

“We would like to see all players at every level of the game – male, female, young or old - receive proper medical treatment for head injuries which would include scans.

“A scan – however funded either by the NHS or privately because of the costs involved – would let a player know whether they were putting themselves in any life threatening danger.

“Professional rugby players have retired from the game because they cannot risk the prospect of further concussions.

“It is a great game involving big, strong, heavy, fit athletes but we need to make it as safe as possible.

“There are many thousands of girls and women playing rugby and Lily, like us, wants that to continue.

“While we will never recover from the loss of our beautiful daughter, we are immensely proud of the gift of life she gave to scores of people through her organ donation.

“She will never be forgotten by the people who loved her – and dozens more who she never met.”

They said their oldest daughter had never been happier in both her ‘professional and private life’ when she suffered the injury at North Tawton, Devon.

Lily was a founder member of the Exonian Ladies team based at Topsham RFC in Devon.

Team captain Katie Lunnon, who also runs Devon Ladies team, witnessed her teammate and friend’s collapse – although no one saw the collision with the opponent.

Katie told the inquest that they ended the Devon training session with a seven-a-side mini rugby game where there was tackling but uncontested scrums.

She said: “Whilst watching the match I did seen Lily involved in tackles but she didn’t appear to have any after effects at that time.

“However a couple of minutes later she was preparing to be part of an uncontested scrum, then I saw her walking towards the touchline and come off the pitch.

“I went over to see if Lily was okay. She said that she had a bit of a headache. I didn’t really think anything of it as it was very cold and we were soaked through.

“Lily was kneeling down for a bit and then she said she felt sick and was leaning forward on all fours.

“She looked as if she was in pain. I was trying to talk to her. I was trying to get her to lean back and open up a bit.”

She said Lily passed out after becoming unresponsive and her eyes unfocussed and ‘Lily just started to snore really loudly and it was obvious she had passed out’.

First aid trained coaches started to give her CPR when she stopped breathing.

Senior university lecturer Katie said of the sport: “The rugby we played was full contact which would involve tackling and scrums. Lily played in the front row meaning she was involved in scrums.

“I know Lily had suffered two concussions about a month apart in February and March 2015 and on both occasions she had sought medical attention.”

She said Lily had been fine on the two days before the incident on December 6 and ‘had made no mention at all of feeling unwell’.

Coroner John Tomalin recorded an accidental death conclusion adding: “We have no direct evidence of what happened to her that day.”

He praised Lily’s parents’ brave decision over her organ donation ‘at a time when they were trying to cope with the impending death of their daughter’.

Mr Tomalin said he was ‘full of admiration for such a selfless act of kindness’.

Consultant radiologist Dr Michael Thomas told the hearing that Lily died from ‘an acute bleed’ as a result of a trauma – the collision with the opponent.

He said her two previous rugby concussions in March and April, hitting her head on a cupboard door at the zoo in April and a ‘fainting’ collapse at home a few weeks before her death, were not connected to her death.

He said: “There were no signs of previous inter cranial injury.”

He said a CT scan showed that the blood clot and bleed occurred recently – “within hours of the scan.”

Dr Rebecca Appelboam, consultant in intensive care at the Royal Devon and Exeter hospital, said Lily was flown by air ambulance to them after suffering a heart attack.

She said: “The history was that she was playing rugby and suffered a knee to her heads during the game.

“She apparently got up and carried on playing for approximately five minutes, then felt unwell and left the pitch.

“Five minutes later she collapsed and had a cardiac arrest. The scan of her head demonstrated a blood clot between the brain and the skull.”

Lily’s cause of death was diffuse cerebral hypoxic injury, out of hospital cardiac arrest and a closed head injury while playing rugby, said the coroner.

Lawyer Stephanie Wilson, representing the RFU and Topsham RFC, said Lily felt unwell ten minutes before the end of training before an uncontested scrum.

She said: “Before Miss Partridge joined the scrum she mentioned to the referee that she had a headache. The referee asked if she was okay and if she had hit her head and Miss Partridge said that she was fine and she had knocked her head earlier.”

She said Lily walked off the pitch but within 10-15 minutes she collapsed and was ‘no longer breathing’.

She added: “No one witnessed Miss Partridge sustaining a knock to her head during the day.”

Conclusion: Accident.

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