A woman died when the cold water at an immersion therapy session popular with celebrities triggered an undiagnosed heart condition, ruled a “concerned” coroner who has called for more regulation of the activity alongside her mother.
Kellie Jean Poole suffered a cardiac arrest on 25 April last year after being pulled from the River Goyt in Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire, during the session run by a company named Breatheolution, which boasts TV presenter Coleen Rooney and actor Stephen Graham among its clientele.
A two-day inquest into the 39-year-old’s death was told the mother, from Droylsden in Tameside, Greater Manchester, had been “enjoying” the session and “laughing and giggling” with two friends moments before she went into cardiac arrest and was later pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics.
Concluding on Wednesday, Peter Nieto, senior coroner for Derby and Derbyshire, said: “Kellie died due to sudden cardiac arrhythmia triggered by immersion in cold water which likely became unsurvivable due to an undiagnosed, pre-existing heart condition. It is likely that the cold water triggered her heart to go out of rhythm, which then led her to go into sudden cardiac death. It is likely that the heart condition prevented recovery.”
After Chesterfield Coroner’s Court heard that cold water immersion activities are unregulated, with no legal requirement for written risk assessments or waiver forms, Mr Nieto said this was a “concern” and that he felt it necessary to write to authorities highlighting the issue, while Ms Poole’s mother, Diane Service, also called for more to be done.
She said: “I can’t believe that these activities are not regulated. I know it is nobody’s fault, but I just can’t believe it. It is a change that needs to come very soon. It is too late for Kellie, but not for someone else.”
The immersion session was booked by Ms Poole’s friend, Victoria Fielding, and was led by Breatheolution founder Kevin O’Neill, with the water temperature on the day recorded as 10.7C.
According to the Breatheolution website, cold water therapy “refers to the practice of exposing the body to cold water”, with improved mental health, reduced stress and improved circulation among its “vast” benefits.
A smiling Ms Rooney and a grinning Mr Graham are among the celebrities seen previously in the water at the camp. The TV presenter and wife of former England footballer Wayne Rooney writes on the company’s website: “What a way to start the week ... Monday morning in freezing cold water. I loved it ... thanks so much @Breatholution for guiding us through it and making us more aware of how important the way we breathe is.”
Giving evidence, Ms Fielding said that Ms Poole, who had never previously complained of health problems, was “enjoying” the session and “laughing and giggling”, but later complained she had a headache in the front of her head. She then fell forward into the water and Mr O’Neill began CPR.
Mr Nieto recorded the cause of Ms Poole’s death as sudden cardiac arrhythmic death, caused by hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – a thickening of the heart muscles – due to immersion in cold water.
The inquest heard on Tuesday that no waiver forms had been signed before the session, but Mr O’Neill had verbally asked Ms Poole whether she had any existing health conditions.
At the end of that day’s hearing, Ms Poole’s father, Frank Service, accused Mr O’Neill of “not giving it 100 per cent” to look after his customers and said he “needs to put more effort in”.
However, Mr Nieto said he found no aspect of the running of the session had contributed to Ms Poole’s death and that he did not believe a different course of action should have been taken.
He said: “Kellie had an undiagnosed and in fact completely unknown cardiac condition. Mr O’Neill had asked her if she had any heart conditions which would preclude cold water immersion. She was totally unaware. I don’t see any reason on the evidence why cold water immersion should not have proceeded.”
Mr O’Neill was among those who called for action on regulating the activity, telling the court: “There is not enough regulation, I wholeheartedly agree with that. I have witnessed every reaction possible in the cold in the last three years and it does need regulating.”
Mr Nieto said he would issue a Prevention of Future Deaths report to raise the issue.
He said: “Specifically, my concern is there is no regulation of people who run cold water immersion sessions and indeed we have heard from the environmental health service that there are no statutory or regulatory requirements on people running these sessions.
“It seems to me that there is a case for it being looked at, whether there can or should be any regulations of these businesses and activities.
“My intention is to make some further inquiries to see who I should write to. Whether anything will come of that, I don’t know, but I will raise the issue.”
Mr Nieto closed the hearing by extending his condolences to Ms Poole’s family, who attended the inquest.