Keith Titmuss had always dreamed of becoming a professional NRL player but never made it to his first game after collapsing during his first training session.
The 20-year-old Manly Sea Eagles player had just completed his first pre-season training at the end of 2020 when he began suffering cramps and seizures.
The young south-west Sydney striker was rushed from the club’s Narrabean base to hospital but later died from a heart attack.
A New South Wales Coroner’s Court inquest was told Titmuss probably died as a result of exertional heat exhaustion, a rare and “under-reported” medical condition.
Titmuss’ mother, Lafo Titmuss, said in court Wednesday that her son had been more committed than ever to his training and was excited to achieve his goals.
‘Keith loved Manly. He loved his brothers in arms on and off the field. He loved and respected the training staff,” stated Mrs Titmuss.
‘After signing the contract he had an extra spring in his step. He finally realized that his commitment to becoming an NRL player was about to come true. 2020 was going to be the year of him.”
Lafo Titmuss, mother of Keith Titmuss spoke of the love her son had for the Manly Sea Eagles club and his teammates
The shirt made by the Titmuss family to honor the Sea Eagles player who died in 2020 after training
Mrs Titmuss described her “darling” son as the “paragon of virtue” and said he had left the prestigious Newington College to follow the NRL over other codes.
Keith Titmuss lived his life to “absolute fullness,” his mother added.
“We try to honor him every day by living our best lives…just thanking him for leaving us with good memories,” she said afterward outside court.
Deputy State Coroner Magistrate Derek Lee, who was emotional after the statement, thanked Mr Titmuss’ family for reminding the court about “Keith, the son, brother and partner”.
“Collectively sharing their memories… I’m very grateful for that because it reminds us more of Keith the footballer: the son, the brother, the partner,” he said.
The court was told the training session on November 23, 2020 lasted approximately two hours, on what one doctor described as a “mild” 24 degree C day in northern Sydney.
The NRL team then entered Manly’s ‘tin shed dojo’ for an intense 10-minute training session, after which Mr Titmuss’ condition rapidly deteriorated into full-body seizures.
Paramedics, who attended what they described as a “chaotic” and “extremely challenging” scene, said the dojo was “hot and humid” and made them sweat.
As evidence, they defended not using ice to cool Mr. Titmuss before transporting him to an ambulance, saying the “only goal” was to control his seizures.
NSW Ambulance paramedic Grant told the court that as per procedure it was crucial to protect Mr Titmuss’ airway despite having a temperature of 41.9C.
Keith Titmuss’ mother gave moving speech at inquest honoring her son
The Titmuss family remembered a loving young man committed to his training
The inquest, which lasted a week, heard evidence from a range of experts about how Mr Titmuss came to suffer from heat exhaustion due to exertion on such a mild day.
Giving evidence Thursday, Dr. Simon Quilty placed more weight than others on a coronary stenosis, or thickening of the arteries, diagnosed after Titmuss’ death.
‘There is a 20-year-old young man who is very fit and who died on a relatively mild day from sunstroke. There has to be a predisposition somewhere,” Dr Quilty told the court.
Asked if the Manly Sea Eagles could have adapted a shorter training session for Titmuss, Dr Quilty said the “unfortunate” thing was that his coronary condition was unknown at the time.
‘I understand it was 24C. Soccer teams have been doing training sessions like this since I was a child. “It was a classic type of session,” Dr. Quilty said.
The court was also told that Mr Titmuss had gained around 4.6kg during the off-season and had scored low compared to his teammates on aerobic fitness tests.
Titmuss family arrive at inquest wearing T-shirts honoring fallen Manly player
Aaron Coutts, professor of sport and exercise science at the University of Technology Sydney, said the results were a “red flag” when it came to their ability to deal with the heat.
“The data showed that Keith has the lowest aerobic fitness score tested in the Manly Sea Eagles at the time, much lower than generally reported scores,” he said.
He later added: “He (Mr Titmuss) was at increased risk of not tolerating the fitness sessions and, as a consequence, his risk (of heat-related illnesses) increased.”
When asked if he was to blame, he said: “It was a very complicated situation and it’s impossible to predict exertional heat stress… just the risk factors.”
The inquest was also attended by representatives from NSW Ambulance and Manly Sea Eagles and will resume for oral presentations later this year.