A Valley Christian School football player’s 2009 death from brain trauma began with a concussion suffered in a game the previous week that had not fully healed, according to a lawsuit filed by his family this week.
The wrongful death claim brought by the family of Drew Swank against the school, an administrator, football coaches and a family doctor alleges negligence and discloses for the first time details surrounding the player’s medical condition leading up to his death.
New Valley Christian administrator Nathan Williams declined to speak about the case at the request of the private religious school’s board of directors and attorney.
Swank’s family also declined comment on the lawsuit.
The teenager’s death rattled the small Spokane Valley school and sparked an outpouring of support from the community during a time when athlete concussions were coming under closer scrutiny across the nation.
Swank was a junior playing in a Sept. 18, 2009, game when he was hit in the head and began suffering severe headaches, according to his parents, Donald and Patricia Swank.
Their lawsuit alleges that Drew Swank was not examined by head coach Jim Puryear, assistant coach Mike Heden, or school headmaster Derick Tabish.
The headaches lasted through the weekend, so Swank went to his Coeur d’Alene doctor, Tim Burns, the following Monday.
Burns diagnosed a concussion and placed Swank on “no practice, no play” restrictions. The lawsuit states that Swank told his coaches about the restrictions.
By Thursday of that week, Swank told his mother that his headaches were gone. She called Burns’ office and through a clinic employee he lifted the restrictions without a follow-up exam, the lawsuit alleges. The doctor’s OK gave Swank the green light to resume practice and play in the Friday game.
Burns’ office did not return a message seeking comment.
Valley Christian’s 8-man football team traveled for an away game at LaCrosse-Washtucna.
During the game, Drew Swank played poorly. The lawsuit alleges he showed signs consistent with a head injury: “sluggishness, poor judgment and reflexes and weakness.”
Rather than pull him from the game, coach Puryear summoned Swank to the sideline where he is alleged to have “grabbed him by the facemask and proceeded to violently shake his head up and down in anger,” the lawsuit says.
Swank went back into the game and was hit by an opposing player.
It was a violent collision that witnesses at the game have reported made Swank’s head whip back and forth before smashing into the field.
Swank got up and tried to stagger to the sideline, vomiting before he collapsed.
Medics rushed Swank to a hospital in Ritzville before airlifting him to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane.
He died four days later despite emergency surgery. The death cast a pall on the remainder of the football season, and Valley Christian disbanded its team for good after a Nov. 6, 2009, game.
In the weeks following Swank’s death, the family offered public thanks for the community’s support, including special thanks to Puryear and others.
Swank’s organs were donated, including his eyes and his heart, a gesture that was recognized in a float in the Rose Parade.
The suit claims that the school failed to protect Swank under the Zackery Lystedt Law, a piece of legislation signed into law in July 2009, two months before Swank died.
The law outlines how schools must handle concussions, including the removal of student athletes suspected of having concussions from practice and games, and requires that a student receive medical clearance before being allowed to participate following a concussion.
The suit did not disclose a monetary demand.
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