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Peter Robinson, Father of Northern Ireland Teen Lost To Second Impact Syndrome in a Rugby Match, Speaks Out

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Benjamin Peter Robinson

Born 29th May 1996 – Died 31st January 2011

By Peter Robinson

Ben, as he was to me, or Benjamin, as he liked to be called, was an A student who had a big broad smile and a wicked sense of humour. A very caring sensitive boy who hated confrontation, he was a mediator. Growing up, Ben loved ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’, playing football and getting up to mischief. He was fanatical about Man Utd and visited Old Trafford and Wembley to see them play with his step father Steven. He would talk endlessly about who was the best player – Scholes, Ronaldo, Messi, Best, Pele. I brought him to see Messi play for Barcelona, it was a great day.

Ben has a sister Holly who lived at home with him. She was studying for her GCSE at the time. Holly continued to attend Carrickfergus Grammar and has shown great strength and courage, gaining all her GCSE and latterly all her A levels. She is now at College, she is sports mad including football and hockey although this gives me many sleepless nights, but at least she knows the dangers of concussion.

Ben has a younger brother Gregor and sister Isla who lives in Scotland with myself and my wife Carol. There is not a day that passes when Ben is not spoken about or watched on home DVD. When we told them what had happened to Ben, my son Gregor said, ‘can we not take the grass out of the ground and put it into Ben to make him grow better?’ If only it was that simple.

Ben also has 2 step sisters- Sian and Dana and they miss him terribly.

Ben was the most loyal child, he adored his mother Karen, they had a great relationship, since Ben’s death she has not been able to work again, any chance at getting her life back on track or a return to a form of normality seems a long way off.

On Saturday 29th January 2011, I knew that Ben was playing a Medallion match at School, I had spoken to him the previous day he was excited and nervous about the game. Late morning Holly telephoned Carol to say that Ben had been injured in the game and an ambulance was taking him to the Royal Victoria Hospital. At that time I thought, “okay its rugby”. I expected him to get injured at some time, a cut, a broken arm, ankle and my worst thought was a broken neck. I immediately booked flights across for myself and Carol, whilst waiting to travel I received telephone calls from Steven saying that Ben had a head injury and things were not looking good. Waiting on that flight was the longest wait of my life. I just wanted to be with my son.

On arrival at the RVH, I knew Ben had been taken to HDU. We spoke with the consultants and I could tell by their manner that things were not good. They told us that Ben had suffered severe head trauma and was highly unlikely to recover. They expected this sort of injury from a car accident and they said recovery would take a miracle. The staff at the HDU were fantastic. They attempted to reduce the swelling in Ben’s brain by using a new cooling method, but unfortunately this did not help. Seeing Ben lying there in the hospital bed and being unable to help him is a parent’s worst nightmare, I could only hold his hand and talk to him.

On the Monday, the consultants spoke to the family and explained that they believed Ben was ‘Brain Stem Dead’ and they carried out tests which confirmed this. We were approached by the Organ Donor team who made a request to the family that as Ben was so fit and healthy he could help others by donating his organs. As a family we agreed that Ben would want to help others. We wanted a miracle, but knew that Ben could be someone else’s miracle by donating. We know that Ben’s organs helped to save 5 others: a little girl Erin who was 6 months received part of his liver and her parents wrote some time later to tell the family that she was doing well. Knowing that Ben has helped others is somewhat comforting.

On the Monday night, Karen (Ben’s mum) and myself sat all night beside him, holding his hand. We did not want to leave him for a moment. Knowing that that night was the last night we could hold our son was devastating.

On Tuesday he was taken away for the organ donation operation. That was the last time I saw my son alive.

On Wednesday I identified my son at the mortuary.

Ben’s funeral was very difficult. The amount of people who came to pay respect to him was beyond comprehension. The school choir sang at the funeral and they were amazing, singing whilst tears ran freely down their little faces. The headmaster told tales from Ben’s friends, we had music, photos, and I laughed and cried. The school rugby team carried his coffin out of the church and through the streets of Carrickfergus.
Some months later we were contacted by the State Pathologist Jack Crane and he told the family that the findings in relation to Ben’s cause of death were ‘Second Impact Syndrome’. Having never heard this before, he explained that Ben had suffered several concussions during the one match.

As there was a video of the match, we watched this and saw many incidents where Ben had been injured and was seen on many occasions holding his head.

As a family, we wanted to find out what had happened, what had went wrong, and why did no one know about this syndrome? We wanted to make sure that this could not happen again.

We could not get Ben’s death certificate until the Coroner had carried out an inquest into his death. Unfortunately, as time passed, Ben’s team mates were still traumatised by his death and when they found out that it was mismanaged concussion they were devastated knowing that if they had been aware of the signs and symptoms of concussion they would have highlighted it.

The police investigation was long and painstaking and many mistakes were made. The family had to instruct a lawyer to assist with the investigation.

A chance meeting at Ben’s grave between Karen and a school friend led to valuable information coming to light: Ben had been injured several times during the match, all head injuries. He was treated for each one and allowed to play on. It was felt he was fit to play on as he had passed some checks. The video shows that this was not the case. He is seen prone on the ground, not moving on occasions and slow to get up. He is disorientated and is seen constantly holding his right side of his head. Some team mates came forward and made statements that Ben could not remember the score, even although it was a low scoring game. Other statements emerged saying that Ben was knocked out on an occasion.

The family had to have another funeral service when Ben’s Brain was returned to the family. Over the two and half years since his death we have had 2 funerals, 2 inquests and hours of heartache. Finally, on 4th September 2013, we got Ben’s death certificate stating that he had died of ‘Second Impact Syndrome’.

As a family we have a very simple message: we want concussion awareness introduced into the School curriculum. ‘It’s a life skill’

We want mandatory training for all coaches and referees. Players need to be aware, they need to look after each other – a buddy buddy system.

Sports organisations and Unions need to accept that concussion can be fatal. Don’t down play concussion.

Professionals Rugby players are sending out the wrong message in regard to return to play after a head injury.

My son left me a wonderful gift, that I was unaware of until his mum found it in his school jotter. He had written the following :

My Dad
I probably don’t think of him as much as I should,
but when I do I think of all the things
he has done for me.
I think of the endless drives up
to football and rugby matches, I think of all the camping trips,
events and treats organised for me and my
sister. I remember all the plane trips
and drives he’s had to take,
as he lives in Scotland,
just for me.
I know he will ring everyday
to check up on me and know how
I’m doing.
I know I can talk to him
about anything and everything and
that he will give me the right advice
even when I think I don’t need it.
And although he has gained some
weight over the years and he is a Man City fan
I still love him and he loves me.

Ben Robinson