Jury calls for research into stimulant drinks

 

A jury at an inquest into the death of a teenager who collapsed and died during a basketball tournament has recommended that immediate research be carried out into all stimulant drinks on sale in the Republic.

The recommendation came after evidence was given at Dublin County Coroner's Court yesterday that Mr Ross Cooney (18) had consumed up to three cans of the Red Bull high-energy drink on the day of his death. There was no evidence, however, that the drink was responsible for his death.

The Dublin County Coroner, Dr Kieran Geraghty, heard Mr Cooney of Mallow Street, Limerick, died at the National Basketball Area in Tallaght, Dublin, on November 20th, 1999. He was a first-year business studies student at the University of Limerick. A jury of eight reached a unanimous verdict that the cause of death was unexplained Sudden Adult Death Syndrome, a rare condition affecting about one in 300,000 people.

A representative of Red Bull in Austria was among those to give evidence. Dr Volker Viechtbauer said Red Bull was sold in 44 countries. It had never been banned in any country and he had never received any report of a person dying after consuming it.

Counsel for the Cooney family, Mr David Nolan, put it to him that an EU committee which looked at high-energy drinks concluded further study was needed to establish upper safety limits for consumption of two ingredients in Red Bull - taurine and glucuronolactone. Dr Viechtbauer disagreed.

The EU report also noted there was no evidence the two ingredients were toxic.

Earlier, the inquest heard evidence from the student's parents, Mr Joseph and Mrs Helen Cooney. Mr Cooney said his son had a hole in his heart as a baby but it had "cleared up". Mrs Cooney said he had a slight heart murmur which was diagnosed at six months. He was given the all-clear at 14 months.

Mrs Cooney said Ross left Limerick on a bus at 5 a.m. for the tournament. He had three cans of Red Bull in his bag. They were in the bag when it was returned after his death.

Mr Brian Brennan, who was on the University of Limerick team, said Ross purchased three or four cans of Red Bull at a filling station when they arrived in Dublin and drank two of them after the first match. During the second half of the second match he saw Ross collapse. He started to gasp for breath.

Mr John Cotter, another teammate, said Mr Cooney seemed to go into some sort of fit. He stopped breathing and his skin began to turn grey. He said Mr Cooney drank at least one can of Red Bull before the first match and two before the second.

Cross-examined by counsel for Red Bull, Mr Felix McEnroy SC, both Mr Brennan and Mr Cotter said Mr Cooney may have shared the cans with others.

Team coach Mr Paul Marrinan said he met a representative of Red Bull at a tournament in DCU three weeks before Mr Cooney's death who told him people playing games and drinking Red Bull should dilute it with four times as much water to avoid dehydration.

Consultant cardiologist Dr David Mulcahy said he tried for over an hour to resuscitate Mr Cooney at Tallaght Hospital. He believed his death fell into the category of Sudden Adult Death Syndrome. For reasons that were not known some athletes developed an abnormal rhythm of the heart which could result in death within minutes, he said.

The coroner asked if he considered it wise for people to take stimulants before competing in sport. Dr Mulcahy said sport was a stimulant and he could not say what the effect was of a stimulant on top of a stimulant.

He said a post-mortem found an abnormal thickness in the wall of the left ventricle of Mr Conney's heart and he believed his death was linked to this.

Pathologists Dr Michael Jeffers and Dr Paul Crotty said the normal thickness of the wall of the left ventricle was 1.5 cm but it was 2.2 cm in this case. This was a condition sometimes associated with Sudden Adult Death Syndrome.

Dr Nathaniel Cary, a forensic pathologist from Guy's Hospital, London, who was called by Red Bull, said this thickening of the ventricle wall could have occurred after death. He believed the cause of death was unexplained Sudden Adult Death Syndrome.