A parent’s worst nightmare became reality when Anne Ryan discovered her 16-year-old daughter dead in her Broken Hill bedroom in far west NSW.
Brooke was found lying face down with a spray can of deodorant and a tea towel underneath her on February 3 this year, days before she was due to start year 11.
Her heartbroken mum believes she died of sudden sniffing death syndrome – a potential side-effect of using inhalants as part of a deadly trend known as "chroming".
It’s believed that Brooke had also suffered a heart attack.
Her family had no idea she’d been using inhalants before discovering her lifeless body.
“I wake up, I think of her, I got to sleep and think of her, and you wish, you wish [you could bring her back], but you just can’t,” Anne Ryan told the Sydney Morning Herald on Mother's Day, in hopes of warning other parents.
“Every day is a nightmare,” she said.
The teenager was known as a bright student and talented athlete who played basketball, netball and soccer, and was scouted by GWS Giants.
She wanted to be a lawyer, physiotherapist or beautician after she finished school, but had struggled with anxiety which worsened during the pandemic.
“Unfortunately she wrestled with her mental health and tried to ease that pain and accidentally paid the ultimate price,” her dad, Deon Ryan, said in a Facebook post.
“It is with the saddest and most painful heart that I tell you of the loss of my beautiful daughter, Brooke.”
“We as a family are absolutely devastated and are trying to deal with this nightmare as best we can.”
While a Coroner’s report is yet to be handed down, Brooke’s family used Mother’s Day to speak out about her death and warn others about the dangers of inhalant abuse.
“It is a tragic Mother’s Day for my beautiful cousin Anne,” Ms Ryan’s cousin Sharon Dawson wrote on Facebook on Sunday, “but she’s been so brave to share the story of what happened to her gorgeous daughter Brooke so more deaths can be avoided.”
“Please be aware of the signs - frequent headaches, excessive use of deodorant, the smell in their bedroom, and white patches on tea towels or hand towels - and hopefully Brooke’s passing can help save other lives.”
While Ms Ryan is learning to cope in a world without her “effervescent” daughter, she’s calling for better drug education about the risk of inhalants aimed at both parents and young people through schools.
She also wants better labelling on aerosol cans to warn of the risks.
“Brooke was a beautiful girl with a heart of gold, who’s just so sorely missed,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald, “and would be absolutely devastated to know the negative impact she’s had on so many people from her death.”
Another teen ‘chroming’ death
Brooke’s passing comes two years after another NSW teenager died after sniffing a can of deodorant.
Bradley Mair, 16, was at a sleepover with friends when the group tried chroming for the first time.
“[He] and his mates made a silly decision and it cost him his life,” the teen’s Mum, Corinne Mair, told A Current Affair.
She said her son was a fit and healthy young man who had never tried chroming before, and died after the toxic chemicals in the deodorant caused his heart to stop.
Coles takes action
At the start of this year, supermarket Coles giant took a proactive step against chroming, by locking away deodorants in some of its stores.
One shopper took to Reddit to confirm the move, with a photo of aerosol cans locked behind a glass door.
A spokesperson for the company told Yahoo News Australia that “Coles is co-operating with police to minimise harm caused by the misuse of aerosol products.”
“It takes the whole community to support this issue,” they said.
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