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Inquest concludes into death of Rochester Grammar School student Pearl Unu-Arubi

A 12-year-old girl who collapsed at school died following a severe asthma attack, an inquest has concluded.

Pearl Unu-Arubi went into cardiac arrest at Rochester Grammar School on March 20, 2023.

Smiles from Pearl and her dad PaulPicture supplied by family
Smiles from Pearl and her dad PaulPicture supplied by family

She died 10 days later in King’s College Hospital, in London.

A four-day inquest into her death, held at Oakwood House, in Maidstone, heard how school staff “tried their best” to help the youngster before she collapsed.

Assistant coroner Catherine Wood was told Pearl, along with her friends, attended the office asking for her spare inhaler as she was having an asthma attack on March 20, 2023.

Giving evidence, administrative assistant Stephanie Sherwood said when the group approached the first-aid hatch she got up to look through the medication cabinet to find it but could not.

Deciding it would be quicker, she grabbed the school’s spare pump and passed it through the hatch to the girls.

Ms Sherwood added: “They came back over and were quite frantic and getting worried about Pearl. I did not delay at all and made my way through the office to where she was sitting.

“I could tell she was getting quite panicked. I tried to calm her down and reassure her.

From left: Dad Paul, mum Weyimi, and daughter Pearl. Picture: Family
From left: Dad Paul, mum Weyimi, and daughter Pearl. Picture: Family

“She was breathless. I thought she was getting into a panic at the time which could be escalating it but I soon realised she was struggling more than she had done in the past.”

Ms Sherwood, who no longer works at the school, explained she was first-aid trained and knew Pearl because she had visited the office several times for her spare inhaler when she had forgotten her own.

She added: “I tried to calm her down and get her to use her inhaler. She started to get more panicked and wanted to lie down.

“I was not comfortable and saw this was worse than it had been before so I knocked on Caroline Winder’s door to get her to assist.”

The court heard Ms Winder, who is the school’s lead first-aider, let Pearl into her office to help her.

Ms Sherwood said: “This all happened very quickly but at this point, we did not realise the emergency that it was. We thought everything was going to be OK.

From left: Daughter Pearl and dad Paul. Picture: Family
From left: Daughter Pearl and dad Paul. Picture: Family

“Pearl became quite quiet and slumped into the chair. At this point, I thought it was not right and I dialled for the ambulance.”

She then went to get the school’s defibrillator while Ms Winder began CPR with the guidance of the ambulance operator. When she returned the paramedics had arrived.

During the hearing, principal Clare Brinklow said she also went to check on Pearl as soon as she knew what was happening.

The 43-year-old, who has been trained in CPR since she was 19 years old, said she then started to assist and gave Pearl mouth-to-mouth.

The former sociology teacher added: “I do not know what we could have done any differently. Nobody froze, everybody reacted, and we got her the inhaler as quickly as possible.

“CPR was started immediately and an ambulance was called. I do not think we could have done anything different.”

Mrs Brinklow said her staff dealt with the incident as it was presented - as an asthma attack which Pearl was known to suffer from and had missed school because of in the past.

Pearl’s family’s legal representative Gabrielle Wattas questioned whether staff should have called an ambulance earlier, however, Ms Sherwood said they did as soon as they realised they could not help.

“Between reaching Pearl and calling the ambulance was about three minutes,” she added. “She deteriorated very quickly.

“We would never expect to be in that position, it was very frantic. There was lots going on. We tried to do our best in the situation we were in.”

Ms Winder said she also became concerned when Pearl’s presentation changed when she became quiet and slumped in the chair.

The attendance officer added: “It was at that point I was really concerned and Ms Sherwood called the ambulance. We called them as quickly as we could.”

Ms Wood read into evidence that CCTV footage showed Pearl entering the school building, presumably heading to the office, at 1.52pm and said she would have arrived a minute later.

She added phone records showed the ambulance was called four minutes later (1.57pm) with crews arriving soon after.

Independent expert Professor Charles Deakin, whom Ms Wood asked to review the evidence, said the school had acted reasonably in their response to Pearl’s attack.

He added: “I think the sequence of events and speed is reasonable. Pearl was very poorly, so it was quite reasonable to prioritise getting her to use the inhaler. The inhaler at that stage was the priority.”

Professor Deakin also told the court that even if the ambulance had been called a minute or so earlier, it would not have changed the outcome.

The inquest heard paramedics arrived at the scene at around 2.04pm and took over CPR, administered drugs, including adrenaline, and ventilated Pearl.

A four-day inquest was held at Oakwood House
A four-day inquest was held at Oakwood House

She was then rushed to King’s College Hospital, in London, by the air ambulance’s road vehicle where she was treated further.

Despite medics’ efforts, Pearl died on March 30, 2023, at King’s College Hospital.

Ms Wood concluded she died from natural causes and her cause of death was given as a severe brain injury caused by an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest as a consequence of a severe asthma attack.

Pearl’s parents Weyimi and Paul were present at the inquest and had previously paid tribute to their “kind” and “compassionate” daughter.

A family statement read out in the court added: “Pearl’s vibrant personality illuminated every room. The sky was the limit, she was determined and strong-minded.

“She was our ray of sunshine, she was our everything. Pearl’s character shone brightly.”

From left: Mum Weyimi and Pearl. Picture: Family
From left: Mum Weyimi and Pearl. Picture: Family

Following the conclusion, her parents said: “Pearl embodied the essence of an extraordinary child, gracing our lives with her infectious smile and unwavering positivity.

“Her innate kindness, warmth, and boundless spirit left an indelible impression on all who were fortunate enough to know her.

“We, along with our family members and friends, cherish fond memories of Pearl’s insightful thoughts and profound wisdom, which she graciously shared as we navigated life’s challenges together.

“Although Pearl is no longer here to convey her experiences firsthand, we have faith that her voice has been represented through our legal counsel, and we commend the thorough investigation conducted by the coroner’s court in addressing our queries.

“While we continue to navigate life without our beloved daughter, we find solace in cherishing the cherished memories we shared.

“With the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, we take comfort in the belief that we will be reunited with Pearl in eternity, where death holds no sway.”

In a statement, Ms Brinklow, also said: “We were deeply saddened by the tragic passing of Pearl. She was a shining light in our school community and met everyone with great kindness and a smile.

“The coroner has concluded, having heard expert testimony, that we acted appropriately in a tragic set of circumstances and did all we could when Pearl fell ill.

“But this is no comfort to us and we know that will also be the case for Pearl’s family and friends.

“We have lost a wonderful student, and they have lost a much-loved family member and friend. Our thoughts and condolences remain with her loved ones, and we ask that everyone continues to respect their privacy.”

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