A Western Australian coroners inquest into the death of a Kalamunda teenager who died after taking drugs at the 2009 Big Day Out has reached its conclusion, with the report determining that Gemma Thoms’ death was accidental, but that a lack of medical facilities at the Perth leg of the one-day music festival contributed to her death.
As previously reported, Thoms attended the Perth leg of the Big Day Out four years ago where she swallowed three ecstasy tablets before entering the event, afraid of the consequences of being caught in possession of drugs by police and sniffer dogs; the then 17 year old later collapsed at the festival and was taken to hospital where she died the next day.
As The West reports, the corner’s report details Thoms had first approached paramedics after feeling unwell, lied to them about her age, saying she was 18 years old. She told two volunteer first aid staff that she had taken a dose of ‘drexi’ (re: dexedrine), and she was then allowed to return to the festival.
After going on an amusement ride, Thoms collapsed and began convulsing where a medical team rushed her to Charles Gairdner Hospital, where she reportedly had a body temperature of 43C.
Coroner Dominic Mulligan said that the teenager’s organs were “cooked” before she even arrived to the hospital. “Ms Thoms did not know that after she swallowed the third tablet she had just consumed a fatal quantity of ecstasy,” said Mr Mulligan, “which in the context of a very hot day, would inexorably lead to her death unless she was extremely lucky.”“I’m really proud of her (Gemma). I love her. She made a terrible mistake but I couldn’t ask for anything better to come out of this situation.” – Peta Davies
Mr Mulligan ruled that Thoms’ death was accidental but that medical services were “inadequate” to deal with her major medical emergency, with first aid volunteers who treated Ms Thoms were unable to identify her conditions and symptoms.
Medical staff guidelines were however, in line with guidelines at the time of the 2009 Big Day Out, with part of the coroners inquest involving looking into the standards of medical facilities and practice at this January’s 2013 Big Day Out.
Mr Mulligan found that facilities had not only been improved upon from past years, but were ‘in excess’ of what was required by WA Health Department standards.
It’s a ruling that has provided some comfort to the family of the deceased, with Thoms’ mother Peta Davies saying that she is positive about the improvements to the festival’s guidelines and medical infrastructure in light of her daughter’s death.
“The fact that the Coroner said it was inadequate in 2009 when Gem was there and the massive improvements that have been made since with St Johns and also the Big Day… they made such a big difference I’m really really happy about it,” Mrs Davies says. “I’m really proud of her (Gemma). I love her. She made a terrible mistake but I couldn’t ask for anything better to come out of this situation.”
Gemma’s stepfather Paul Davies, a qualified St Johns paramedic, also said the findings were the best outcome in the circumstances, calling on other festivals to match the Big Day Out’s aims to improve their medical facilities.
Additionally Mr Mulligan said that the WA Health Department guidelines should be revised to make sure similar festival events had the same level of medical facilities as this year’s Big Day Out, noting that its classification should be moved from a medium-risk event to a high-risk event, which makes the presence of qualified medical staff, doctors, and assistants mandatory.