A coroner has issued a warning following the death of a 60-year-old British woman, who was reportedly killed in November 2018 when a metal straw she was using impaled her eye, causing severe damage to her brain.
"Clearly great care should be taken when using these metal straws," assistant coroner Brendan Allen noted in a July 8 judicial inquest. "There is no give in them at all. If someone does fall on one and it's pointed in the wrong direction, serious injury can occur."
Allen's words of caution come months after Elena Struthers-Gardner, a retired jockey known as "Lena," was allegedly killed by a mason-jar style drinking glass, equipped with a screw-top lid and metal straw. The victim was carrying the glass in the kitchen of her Poole, Dorset, home when she suddenly collapsed, the Bournemouth Daily Echo reports.
Struthers-Gardner's wife of four years, Mandy, walked in to find Struthers-Gardner lying face-down on the floor making "unusual gurgling sounds" and immediately called an ambulance.
"I did not hear her fall," Mandy said in a statement read aloud to the inquest, adding that her wife was prone to collapsing "like a sack of potatoes" at random intervals due to underlying health conditions. "I went to the kitchen door and could see Lena lying on her front at the doorway between the den and the kitchen."
"Her glass cup was lying on the floor still intact and the straw was still in the jar," she continued. "I noticed the straw was sticking into her head. I called 999 and requested an ambulance."
Mandy said the emergency operator told her to turn her wife over, which is when she noticed the 10-inch metal straw had impaled Struthers-Gardner through the eye and eyelid.
“I slid the glass off the straw and turned her over," she recalled. "I could see the straw had gone through her left eye."
Struthers-Gardner was rushed to Southampton General Hospital, where she died the following day. Dr. David Parham, who carried out her post-mortem examination, ruled her cause of death a traumatic brain injury, according to the Telegraph.
Detective Inspector Wayne Seymour, who carried out an investigation into Struthers-Gardner's death, said the case was extremely unusual, noting, "Medical staff had never seen an injury like that. They said it was unusual more than anything else."
Metal straws are often touted as a top ecological solution to their plastic counterparts, a common source of ocean pollution. However, people who suffer from disabilities, as well as advocates for the disabled community, have railed against the products, as they can present a serious danger to those with handicaps, including Struthers-Gardner, who suffered from mobility issues since a fall at age 21.
A 2018 push to ban single-use plastic straws elicited a wave of criticism and personal testimonies around the world, many from those with disabilities that prevent them from being able to lift cups high enough to drink and those who are prone to tremors or spasms, which make sharp metal straws particularly unsafe.
Following the July inquest, Struthers-Gardner's wife said she hopes "this never happens to anyone else."
"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."
"I miss her very much, she was taken far too early," she added.