A schoolboy rugby player has become the first person in Northern Ireland to die from second impact syndrome, a Coroner has ruled.
Benjamin Robinson, 14, collapsed on the pitch at Carrickfergus, Co Antrim in January 2011 and died in hospital from head injuries.
Coroner Suzanne Anderson told an inquest in Belfast she believed the teenager had sustained concussion during a heavy collision with another player at the start of the second half but, despite his injury, had played on for a further 25 minutes.
“I am satisfied that he sustained concussion in the first four minutes of the second half. Unfortunately neither the team coach or the referee were made aware of his neurological complaints and he continued to play,” Ms Anderson said.
Benjamin, who was playing for Carrickfergus Grammar School, was involved in two other clashes during the game with Dalriada at his school grounds. In the final minutes he fell to the ground unconscious and, despite frantic efforts by a doctor who had been spectating and medics at the Royal Victoria Hospital, he never recovered.
The coroner added: “I accept the consensus opinion that the features of this death are typical of second impact syndrome which occurs when two concussive-type injuries are sustained in a short space of time. It is exceptionally rare but can affect young people between 14 and 18 whilst engaged in sporting activity.
“This is the first recorded death of its kind in Northern Ireland and most probably the first in the UK. Medical science is not able to ascertain why an individual can succumb to this exceedingly rare syndrome.”
There is some evidence that children are more susceptible to second impact syndrome than adults because their brains cannot recover as well from a minor knock.
The coroner said she would present her findings to the head of Irish rugby and Northern Ireland’s Minister for Education to highlight the dangers of second impact syndrome and raise awareness about concussion management.
“I think everybody could learn from this,” she added.
Outside the court, the schoolboy’s parents said they would fight for the introduction of new legislation to protect young people engaged in contact sports.
His father, Peter Robinson, said: “We welcome the Coroner’s findings and the recognition that there was a concussion early in the second half and he played a full half with concussion.
“Obviously it has been highlighted about education - it is about getting the message out to the schools. We had a policy in America, a template for all of this, that can be put in place tomorrow if they wanted.
“I would love to fight for Ben’s Law because why should children in the UK not have the rights like in America.”
The family have consistently argued that Benjamin should have been taken off the pitch earlier and believe if modern guidelines on concussion management had been put in place their son would still be alive.
Mr Robinson said he hoped something positive could come out of the tragedy.
He added: “We lost Ben. There has to be something good come of this. Just to make sure no other family has to go through this. It is so easily prevented. Again we go back to education and all the facts being presented to parents so they are aware.”
There were harrowing scenes inside Belfast’s Old Town Hall when video footage of the match was played. In it, Benjamin could clearly be seen clutching his head on several occasions.
The schoolboy’s mother, Karen Walton who had been watching from the sidelines as her son collapsed, wept uncontrollably while other friends and relatives clung to each other for support and wiped away tears.
Afterwards Mrs Walton recalled how Benjamin had slept in his rugby kit and had not wanted to let team mates or his school down during the crucial match.
She said the coroner’s findings provided little comfort.
“I don’t have my son back. I have an image of my 14-year-old son in his rugby kit the night before. He slept in his rugby kit because he didn’t want to forget anything and he didn’t want to let anybody down. He did not want to let anybody down during that match,” she said.
“He was the most loveable, loving, likeable, honest kid. He was just a 14-year-old kid who is missed every second of every day. He was a very loyal boy, outspoken but a good kid, a great son and a fantastic brother.”
The coroner described the video images as “extremely useful” and said they were “better than a witness statement” because they could not be disputed.
The inquest previously heard how Benjamin had appeared dazed and confused towards the end of the game. A team mate said he had not been aware of the score that his team was winning. It was also claimed that after one collision Benjamin had to be helped up by the team coach.
Cause of death was officially recorded as cerebral oedema and subdural haemorrhage associated with second impact syndrome.
In a statement the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) and Ulster Rugby said player safety was a priority.
“The IRFU and Ulster Rugby would like to once again express our deepest condolences to the family of Benjamin Robinson,” a spokesman said.
“Injuries of this nature are highly unusual in rugby. The IRFU and Ulster Rugby observe all international best practices, as set out by the International Rugby Board. We have in place, and continue to develop, education and training campaigns to ensure player welfare is prioritised at all times.”