Student collapsed and died in PureGym after work-out with devastated girlfriend - inquest
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A ‘fit and healthy’ 21-year-old man collapsed and died suddenly in a “unstaffed” 24 hour gym - as paramedics struggled to access the venue, an inquest heard.
Henry Best had just completed a workout with his girlfriend Holly Jones at PureGym when he complained of feeling faint and suddenly collapsed. Despite his girlfriend’s ‘effective CPR’ and paramedics deploying a defibrillator, he was pronounced dead at the Harbourside gym on Millennium Square, Bristol, a short while later.
Avon coroner Dr Peter Harrowing concluded on Thursday (20/10) that despite paramedics struggling to enter the gym - and the only member of staff on site being a cleaner that didn’t speak good English - it was unlikely any failings would have changed the outcome.
But speaking after the inquest, Henry’s sister Hannah Best, of Uckfield, East Sussex, said they wanted lessons to be learnt to make it safer for people using 24 hour gyms. She highlighted safety issues including no-one being able to find or use the defibrillator that was on site.
And she said despite paramedics arriving just six minutes after a fellow gym member called 999, there was a further three-minute delay reaching him as no-one was there to greet him.
She said: “It is heartbreaking to lose your loved one in a place that you perceive as very safe. The pain we have felt is immense and if we can prevent one more family going through this then that is what we would like.”
The inquest heard Henry collapsed at around 11.30pm on January 10 this year - an hour into his work out from an undiagnosed heart condition. He was pronounced dead at 12.40pm the following day.
Since his death, the gym has moved the defibrillator to a more prominent spot, the coroner was told. The chain also has 24-hour CCTV with emergency buttons that connect to a remote help team at all its 301 sites but no-one activated it that night.
However, the coroner concluded that even if an on-duty cleaner had been informed of the incident, he would have been unable to save Henry. Dr Harrowing concluded that Henry died of natural causes, and that there was no need for a narrative verdict at the end of an inquest that lasted for a day and a half.
He also declined to issue a report on improvements that could be made at gym facilities to improve safety, citing measures already introduced by PureGym. Henry was described in the inquest by his family as being “genuinely concerned with the wellbeing of people around him”.
His mother Dr Louise Best, in a statement on behalf of the family, added: “Had someone else collapsed in the gym on that day, I do not hesitate to believe that Henry would have used his skills in first aid to help them.”
The University of Bristol music student had just completed a workout with his girlfriend Holly. In a statement read to the inquest, Holly wrote: “I’d picked up a yoga mat, and as I turned around Henry said he felt really faint. He looked really pale, and then fell on his front to the floor.
“His nose was bleeding and he started shaking, but appeared to still be breathing. Two men entered the room soon after. Both quickly called 999 and one left his phone with me before going to look for help.”
Shortly afterwards Henry stopped breathing and Holly noted she could no longer feel a pulse. Henry’s family raised concerns after his death that the gym had been unstaffed at the time of the incident, despite being registered as staffed on their website.
PureGym regional manager Steve Collins told the court that at the time the gym had considered the presence of cleaning staff as the facility being ‘staffed’. A barrister for the family expressed their concerns that that this had confused gym users seeking to get help for Henry on the night, meaning they failed to press an ‘alert’ button at the scene.
Had this button been pressed, assistance may have been rendered to Henry quicker. Dr Harrowing explained that he “did not know” why the ‘emergency’ call button was not pressed by any individual at the scene in his concluding remarks.
He added: “I do not know why nobody pressed the emergency button, go get the defibrillator, or contact the number. I do not know why they did not go down the lift to the doors, that has not been explained.
“I’ve heard many inquests in this court, and members of the public and even healthcare professionals do not always act in such stressful circumstances as intended.”
He also accepted that the staffing situation at the site may have led to some confusion, but refused to speculate as to whether this may have changed the outcome for Henry. He said: “I agree there were some issues relating to misunderstanding the staffing or unstaffed situation.
“For the avoidance of doubt, on the balance of probabilities I do not consider whether the gym was staffed or unstaffed as having contributed to the cause of death.” An autopsy conducted by consultant pathologist Edward Sheffield concluded that Henry likely died from arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy - sudden heart failure.
According to specialist cardiac pathologist Professor Mary Sheppard from University of London, the condition is “Well known cause of sudden death during sports”. In a statement, Prof. Sheppard added that the condition was a familial disease sometimes caused by toxic substances or inflammation.
It is often the cause of sudden, unexplained death during physical exertion - especially among young athletes, she added. She noted that no drugs, alcohol, or anabolic steroids were found in Henry’s system, and there was no evidence he had ever used them.
Concerns had also been raised over an ambulance report on the night which had suggested that paramedics had struggled to gain entry into the gym. Paramedic Katherine Shearwood told the court after observing CCTV footage that she no longer felt PureGym security measures had slowed her reaching Henry.
She noted though that it was ‘unusual’ that nobody had come to meet paramedics at the doors of the gym, and nobody had sought to open the doors prior to her arrival. She highlighted too that evidence shows faster treatment from cardiac arrests do often lead to more positive outcomes - but did not comment on whether this could have saved Henry.