Home Travel Yes, I Know About The Turtles. But THIS Is Why We All Need To Have Plastic Straws When We Travel

Yes, I Know About The Turtles. But THIS Is Why We All Need To Have Plastic Straws When We Travel

by SharonKurheg

In 2015, millions of people watched a disturbing 8-minute video (Warning – it’s very painful to watch) of a sea turtle with a straw stuck in his nose, and the two researchers who successfully removed it during their study in Costa Rica. It got a significant amount of media coverage but the topic eventually fizzled out as other shiny things got peoples’ attention.

Fast forward to 2018 and, with the 2015 footage back in the news, the “ban plastic straws” movement began. This time, with the all mighty media push, more people were on board, complete with a plethora of alternate options available for purchase. Reusable or recyclable straws made from paper, bamboo, metal or silicon are showing up everywhere.

Unfortunately, it was one of those metal straws that lead to a tragedy…

A 60-year-old former jockey died last year when she fell into an eco-friendly stainless steel drinking straw. It impaled her left eye and entered her brain, which was the ultimate cause of death.

Elena Struthers-Gardner was carrying a mason-jar style drinking glass that had a screw-top lid when she collapsed at her home in England late last year.

The 10-inch metal straw, which was held in place by the lid, entered her left eye and pierced her brain, caused a fatal brain injury.

There was a recent judicial hearing into the event to get more of the facts regarding the unfortunate occurrence.

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Elena Struthers-Gardner (R) and her wife Mandy (L) // PC: Facebook

A statement was made by Struthers-Gardner’s wife Mandy, who called her spouse ‘Lena’: “I went to the kitchen door and could see Lena lying on her front at the doorway between the den and the kitchen.

“She was making unusual gurgling sounds. Her glass cup was lying on the floor still intact and the straw was still in the jar.

“I noticed the straw was sticking into her head. I called 999 [ETA: similar to 911 in the U.S.] and requested an ambulance.

“While I was on the phone, Lena appeared to have stopped breathing. The lady on the phone asked me to turn her over.

“I slid the glass off the straw and turned her over. I could see the straw had gone through her left eye.”

When the ambulance arrived, Mrs. Struthers-Gardner was rushed to the hospital.

Her wife Mandy said “I was quickly informed that due to the severity of her injury it was very unlikely she would survive.

“We saw a couple of specialists and were told there was nothing they could do.”

Struthers-Gardner was taken off life support the next day.

The hearing also went into the victim’s history…she had suffered from mobility problems since she was 21 years old, after a horse riding accident.

She was prone to falling over due to the pain from scoliosis and multiple fractures to her spine that occurred during her horse riding accident. Her wife said Struthers-Gardner would fall over “like a sack of potatoes.”

Struthers-Gardner has been a heavy user of Fentanyl, a strong pain medication. However, a reduction in her pain meds lead her to become dependent on alcohol. She had been drinking a half liter of vodka a day, mixed with orange juice, from the mason jar cup she was using when the straw pierced her brain.

The doctor who performed the autopsy found no Fentanyl or alcohol in her blood. He said that “Clearly, great care should be taken when using these metal straws. There is no give in them at all. If someone does fall on one and it’s pointed in the wrong direction, serious injury can occur.”

Elena Struthers-Gardner’s cause of death was determined to be a traumatic brain injury from the metal straw.

And yet….the turtle who had the straw stuck in its nose lived to swim another day.

Now, before I get tons of hate mail…


I am totally, 100% on the side of decreasing the use of plastics. Granted, especially when traveling, it’s much easier, particularly at little mom & pop places, to use plastic cutlery on a plastic plate, and a plastic straw in your plastic cup of soda (with a plastic lid, of course), all of which is originally packaged in plastic bags. And of course there’s the convenience of bottled water, right? But no. This just can’t be. With so much plastic polluting the oceans and our landfills, to say nothing of wreaking havoc with animals, I’m thrilled that viable alternatives are popping up daily.

I just found it…ironic?…that this poor woman died because of an alternative straw, yet (as far as we know) the turtle that had a straw up its nose lived. Plus the woman’s backstory was pretty unusual. So yeah, I know this really had little to do with travel, so thanks for indulging me.

And now back to our regularly scheduled points, miles, airlines, car rentals and actual travel stories. 😉

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary


Christian July 10, 2019 - 3:54 pm

While I see your point, this is an almost impossibly unlikely event, while there’s an awful lot of animals dying from plastic daily. IMHO, the real solution is finding a biodegradable plastic that’s cost effective.

SharonKurheg July 10, 2019 - 6:30 pm

Oh yes, I know. There are lots of options and some that we probably don’t even know about yet. Something HAS to be done.

But the story was just too bizarre to let it go 😉

Lara S. July 10, 2019 - 4:47 pm

This is a joke, right? Far more animals are plagued by plastic in the environment than this one freak accident (either the turtles straw up nose video or the human’s) which while unfortunate was foreseeable for someone with mobility issues. However, it was her choice to use a metal straw and carry glass and presumably do many other things that her health issues might make someone else think twice about doing. Free will is a human trait, and we don’t always make smart choices for our own health. Animals don’t get to choose what we humans put in the oceans however so we need to make the right choices for them. (I’d also note they make reusable sippy cups for both kids and adults with issues dropping things that don’t involve straws at all).

SharonKurheg July 10, 2019 - 6:33 pm

Yes, it was mostly a joke. That’s I included the part that said “Tongue In Cheek.”

Of course something needs to be done. Of course humans have the upper hand. However the story was too bizarre to not share.

Thank-you for writing and I hope you like our other posts (which are generally serious – except for the intentionally funny ones).

Tom July 10, 2019 - 11:26 pm

Sharon – I’m generally a fan, but, “tongue-in-cheek”? a winky face? These are two tragedies, and neither is even a little amusing.

Plastics are — according to Smithsonian Magazine — in the digestive tracts of 52% of turtles, globe-wide, (not to mention whales and dolphins and sharks and fish and…). It’s an obscenity that is killing living beings daily, and it’s entirely our fault. (And the “irony” you mentioned isn’t irony at all, because as you admit, you don’t know if the turtle lived or not.)

I have extra-wide, flexible, washable, silicone straws in my car, which make even milk shakes easy to drink. With them, the poor woman in this story — who was trying to do the right thing, even with all of the illnesses she was dealing with — wouldn’t have died. I’d rather you had looked for and written about solutions like that, rather than exploiting other people’s pain and the unnecessary decimation of the planet that is our only home.


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