May 8th to May 12th, 2013 is a blur, a blur with many vivid recollections. On May 8th Rowan was playing a rugby match for her John McCrae Secondary School varsity team when she was “swing tackled”, landing on the ground with her head taking the full force of the impact. Despite all that the medical staff at CHEO could do over the next 4 days she never regained consciousness.
Late in the evening, almost midnight, May 12, 2013 we watched as CHEO medical staff rolled our daughter into the Operating Room so that her wish to have her organs harvested for donation would be fulfilled. As a family we discussed organ donation, but as parents we never imagined it in the context of one of our children. Walking out of the hospital that night the realization hits that our lives will never be the same, a huge part of what, and who we are as people and a family is now gone.
What do we do now?
The early morning of Monday May 13 we were awakened by the phone, it was Trillium Gift of Life calling to let us know that all of Rowan’s organs and tissues had been used and her gifts had helped 8 people to a better quality of life. This, in its own way, was something that elevated our spirits a little, as Rowan always wanted to help people.
Then the phone kept ringing, the media wanting to talk to us, about Rowan and her story. This was a surprise for Kathleen and I. We did not know that the School Board had issued a news release about her death, and we had to make a decision to either tell her story, or huddle away through our grief. We quickly decided that telling her story could yet be another way that she could have a part in helping people, through us. This approach could also be therapeutic for us as it gives us a positive focus to a tragic situation.
Over the next few weeks and months there were many interviews and articles. We emphasised that our message was on raising awareness around concussion and organ donation. We were contacted by the Boston University Centre for Traumatic Encephalopathy who requested her brain tissue for study. All things that would potentially be of a benefit we were compelled to say, yes.
As time passed I received a call from the Coroner’s Office in Ottawa. They had received a request, from Dr. Charles Tator a world renowned neuroscientist from Toronto, to have an inquest into Rowan’s death, and they wanted to get our thoughts on it. After speaking with Dr. Tator to understand his motivations, to learn as much as possible about the events surrounding her death and to do what could be done to prevent another such tragedy, we fully supported his request.
This was not to be a criminal inquest but a “Discretionary Inquest” and therefore it was not on a “need to do” basis but whether to go forward with it would be decided as time permitted. In August of 2014, we were informed that the request had been accepted and the Inquest would take place in the Spring of 2015.
While we welcomed the news that the Inquest would be happening, it also brought with it trepidation. There were still, after almost 2 years, parts of the event that we had very little or no knowledge of and we were going to have to relive things all over again with those new details added to the story.
The Inquest was held in Ottawa beginning Tuesday May 19, 2015. For us it was emotional, cathartic, painful, educational, heart wrenching and in the end rewarding. We heard about her text messages to friends suspecting she may have a concussion but she never told an adult. We heard about the hits she had in games previous to May 8th and how those may have been contributing factors to her death. We learned about Second Impact Syndrome and its deadly consequences. We learned about Bill 39, a Bill that died on the Legislative agenda in the Fall of 2012 and how it was to address the issue of concussions and education regarding proper medical treatment, return to play, return to learn and raising awareness. We learned that skull or spinal fractures could be repaired but not the severely injured brain or spinal cord, and the only cure for those was prevention.
In the end the jury came up with 49 recommendations. The first recommendation was for the Ontario Government to adopt “Rowan’s Law”, an Act governing all youth sport, both school-based and non-school based. The Act should recognize the importance of four criteria in protecting children and youth:
Since the recommendations were released we have been working with our MPP, Lisa MacLeod, to have a Bill “Rowan’s Law” prepared for introduction to the Ontario Legislature when it reconvenes this Fall. Support from the Barrhaven Community has been amazing (this is not unexpected from those of us who live there). In the spirit of bringing people together, as Rowan would have liked it to happen, our request was that the Bill be co-sponsored by members from each of the 3 main political Party’s. We are very pleased that the NDP and Liberal Party’s have both committed to provide co-sponsors for Rowan’s Law.
A kick-off event is scheduled at Ken Ross Park in Barrhaven, Saturday September 12 at 12:30 PM. This is when the Petition in support of Rowan’s Law will be unveiled and the gathering of signatures will begin. Please join us if you can and help make Rowan’s Law a reality for Ontarians.