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Fatal rugby injuries are rare, expert says after P.E.I. high schooler's death

Brodie McCarthy.
Brodie McCarthy. - Submitted

MONTAGUE, P.E.I. — Canadian rugby associations, and some of the sport's most prominent players, are expressing condolences to the family of a P.E.I. high school athlete who died after what one expert says was a "rare" serious injury.

Brodie McCarthy, 18, sustained a fatal brain injury during a routine play on Friday which resulted in bleeding from two different parts of his brain.

McCarthy was coherent and lucid when he came off the field after the play, Seana Evans-Renaud, principal of Montague Regional High School, said Tuesday.

He answered questions from the coach, who told him to sit down and asked another player to sit with him, she said.

Then McCarthy lost consciousness.

The teen was taken by ambulance to Moncton, where doctors conducted brain surgery Friday night. On Saturday, doctors conducted a CAT scan which registered no brain activity, Evans-Renaud said.

McCarthy was weeks away from graduating.

"The P.E.I. Rugby Union and the Prince Edward Island rugby community are devastated and heartbroken at the tragedy over the weekend," a statement from the union's website said.

Jen Kish, retired Rugby 7s player and Olympic bronze medallist, tweeted Monday that her "heartfelt condolences goes out to the McCarthy family."

Her former teammate, Karen Paquin, tweeted: "I have no words. All my thoughts go to the family of this young man."

"We are deeply saddened to learn about Grade 12 student Brodie McCarthy, and the tragic incident in P.E.I. that occurred at a high school rugby match," wrote Rugby Canada in a blog post on their website.

According to Statistics Canada, rugby was the third most common sport in which 15- to 19-year-old males sustained concussions and other brain injuries between 2012 and 2014, behind ice hockey and football.

In 2013, Rowan Stringer, a 17-year-old high school rugby player from Ottawa, suffered two concussions in one week before sustaining a third during a rugby game that led to her death two days later. In March, Ontario passed Rowan's Law, concussion safety legislation designed to protect amateur athletes and educate coaches about the dangers of head injuries.

However, a study conducted by the medical director of Trauma Nova Scotia, Dr. Robert Green, shows youth sport-related deaths, especially rugby-related deaths, are rare.

According to the study, the five deaths from sports injuries in Nova Scotia between 2000 and 2013 happened while children were skateboarding, swimming or cycling.

Green said fewer than five rugby-related major trauma incidents were reported in Nova Scotia over the last 16 years. All involved adults, and none died.

"I can understand the backlash and discussion about rugby-related injuries, and yes it's a violent sport — I played it myself," Green said. "But as far as major injuries and if they happen more than American football? No."

Green said he hopes the tragedy will start a conversation about youth taking major traumatic injuries seriously and what parents and coaches can do to prevent and treat them.

Rugby Canada's PlaySmart program was launched in 2016 to educate members and provincial unions on the risk of head injury on the field and how to properly manage and report the injuries.

"Any player with concussion or suspected concussion should be immediately and permanently removed from training or play," the Rugby Canada website says.

Evans-Renaud said this isn't the first time tragedy has hit her high school.

"We lost three students in an accidental fire," she said. "We have lost a teacher, a bus driver and a student all in one year."

"We just want to get through one year without something like this, but unfortunately we are no stranger to tragedy and grief that goes along with it."

— By Fadila Chater in Halifax

The Canadian Press

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