Elena lived in Dorset with her wife Mandy. Picture: Facebook
Elena lived in Dorset with her wife Mandy. Picture: Facebook

Woman dead after ‘freak’ straw accident

Warning: Graphic content

A woman impaled herself on an eco metal straw, in a freak accident that caused severe brain damage and eventual death, a coronial inquest heard this week.

Details surrounding the horrific death of Elena Struthers-Gardner emerged on Tuesday during a coronial hearing, which ended with a warning from the coroner that "great care should be taken" when using the potentially hazardous metal straws.

Elena had been walking with a mason jar drinking glass sealed with a screw top lid when she collapsed in her kitchen in November last year, The Sun reports.

Sticking out the top of the jar was a 25cm stainless steel eco straw, which went straight through Elena's eye socket and pierced her brain, after she fell directly onto it.

FOUND ON THE KITCHEN FLOOR

The 60-year-old had been at her home in Dorset, which she shared with her wife of six years, Mandy Struthers-Gardner, when she was found on the floor of their kitchen making "unusual gurgling sounds".

Mandy told the hearing her wife's glass cup was lying on the floor "still intact and the straw was still in the jar".

"I noticed the straw was sticking into her head. I called 999 and requested an ambulance," she said. "I slid the glass off the straw and turned her over. I could see the straw had gone through her left eye."

Elena and Mandy Struthers-Gardner had been married for six years and lived together in Dorset. Picture: Facebook
Elena and Mandy Struthers-Gardner had been married for six years and lived together in Dorset. Picture: Facebook

Elena was raced to hospital, where stunned doctors discovered the straw had damaged her brain stem and were forced to put her on life support to help her breathe.

The hearing heard that the metal straw had pierced her head with such force, it had only come to a stop when it hit the back of her skull.

Her family made the devastating decision to take her off life support the following day.

PRIOR HEALTH PROBLEMS

Mandy told the inquest that her wife had been struggling to walk properly for some time.

Elena, a well-known jockey, had been forced to retire from the equestrian world after a serious fall when she was 21 years old, and had struggled to move around easily ever since.

At the time of her death, Elena, affectionately known as Lena, was living with multiple spinal fractures, and Mandy said she would often collapse, "like a sack of potatoes at random intervals".

She begged the coroner to consider issuing a warning to the public about the hazardous nature of metal eco straws.

"I just feel that, in the hands of mobility challenged people like Elena, or children, or even able-bodied people losing their footing, these things are so long and very strong," Mandy said.

"Even if they don't end a life, they can be very dangerous."

The eco straws have grown in popularity in recent years after an environmental push to cease plastic use.
The eco straws have grown in popularity in recent years after an environmental push to cease plastic use.

 

PLASTIC STRAW ALTERNATIVES

The widely used eco straws grew in popularity following a viral video of a sea turtle, with a plastic straw caught in its nose.

What followed was a series of public conservation campaigns, encouraging people and companies to ditch their plastic straws in favour of metal, bamboo or paper alternatives.

The hearing heard that David Attenborough's acclaimed Blue Planet documentary revealed 8.5 billion plastic straws are disposed of each year, sparking a global movement to reduce plastic use.

UK newspaper, The Telegraph, reported that David Parham, a doctor who carried out Elena's post-mortem examination, told the inquest that she had suffered a traumatic brain injury, after the eco straw "pierced through her left eyelid and left eyeball".

Mandy warned the popular metal straws posed a danger to the mobility challenged and children. Picture: Facebook
Mandy warned the popular metal straws posed a danger to the mobility challenged and children. Picture: Facebook

Toxicology results found Elena had no alcohol in her system at the time of her death, despite reports that she had become dependant on alcohol and had been drinking about half a litre of vodka form the mason jar glass, each day.

Elena's brother Robin Struthers also spoke at the hearing, reading an emotional statement in which he pleaded with the coroner to warn the public about how "easily lethal" metal straws can be.

Assistant Coroner Brendan Allen found there was "insufficient evidence to explain how Elena came to fall".

"Clearly great care should be taken when using these metal straws, there is no give in them," he said. "If someone does fall on one, and it's pointed in the wrong direction, serious injury can occur."

Mr Allen concluded that the metal straws should not be used "with any form of lid that holds them in place", as this would increase the likelihood of injury.

"It seems the main problem here is if the lid hadn't been in place the straw would have moved away," he said.

The distressing coronial findings have left people shaken, with many taking to social media to share messages of condolence to Elena's family over the "devastating" accident.

Others declared they were now rethinking whether they would ever use a metal straws again.

Many in the disabled community have since come out in support of banning the metal straws, claiming the plastic straw alternatives were a dangerous hazard.

"Disabled people have been telling you that these straw bans are harmful, that they are medical necessities, and that plastic straw alternatives are hazardous," one woman wrote on Facebook.

"I can't believe this is what it takes for some of you to believe us!"

The distressing findings have left many people rethinking their metal straws.
The distressing findings have left many people rethinking their metal straws.

Others countered that there was no need to ban the straws, arguing the warnings were "a bit OTT".

"Unfortunately, there are dangers in everything," one woman wrote. "I use metal straws every time I have a drink (disability) and have never poked myself in the eye. This was a freak accident."

Another added that while it was a horrific thing to happen to someone, it was "not the straw's fault".

"She fell a lot and it could have even been a pen she was carrying," the person reasoned.

Speaking to reporters outside the coronial court, Mandy said she missed her beloved wife everyday.

"She was taken far too early. I hope this never happens to anyone else," she said.

Continue the conversation @Rhi_lani or email rhian.deutrom@news.com.au



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