25 years on, the pain of losing Anna is still ‘excruciating’

 

Anna Wood never wanted to change the world. But she did - her father Tony says - in death.

The 15-year-old, who died after taking ecstasy in 1995, sparked an intense debate about the drug never before seen in Australia.

Her death rippled through parliament, changed venue legislation and was the subject of countless stories in newspapers, on the radio and television.

The ripples from Anna's death continue to be felt almost 25 years later.

She remains the most recognisable face in Australia's ecstasy debate and a cautionary tale to today's parents - many of whom were her age when she died.

Anna Wood’s father Tony says he will never get over the death of his 15-year-old daughter. Picture: Richard Dobson
Anna Wood’s father Tony says he will never get over the death of his 15-year-old daughter. Picture: Richard Dobson

On October 21, 1995, Anna snuck out with mates to a rave at the Phoenician Club in Sydney, where she took an ecstasy tablet bought from a female friend outside.

About 5am on October 22, she began feeling unwell and was taken back to a friend's house.

Dry-retching, convulsing and lapsing in and out of consciousness, at 10am her parents were called.

They called for an ambulance and Anna was taken to Royal North Shore Hospital.

Mr Wood was holding her in his arms when she stopped breathing.

Anna Wood was just 15 when she died.
Anna Wood was just 15 when she died.

"Her brain started to swell and it would no longer fit into her skull, it was pushing into the back of her spinal column," he said.

As Anna lay in a coma, Mr Wood watched his wife Angela muster a strength he could not.

"Angela wouldn't leave Anna," he said.

"She was on life support, tubes coming out everywhere but she washed her, she bathed her, she changed her, she did everything."

The Phoenician Night Club in Ultimo where Anna Wood overdosed on ecstasy.
The Phoenician Night Club in Ultimo where Anna Wood overdosed on ecstasy.

Finally, the young doctor treating Anna told them he could not save her.

"She wasn't Anna anymore … we said our final goodbyes."

Declared brain dead, her life support was turned off on October 24.

The official cause of death was a cerebral edema caused by hyponatremia, or acute water intoxication, after taking MDMA, the main ingredient in ecstasy.

The front page of The Daily Telegraph Mirror on October 25, 1995 reported the death of teenager Anna Wood.
The front page of The Daily Telegraph Mirror on October 25, 1995 reported the death of teenager Anna Wood.

For her father, that day losing Anna is never far from his mind.

"It doesn't matter what sort of death the universe has got planned for me. It'll never be as hurtful as losing Anna," Mr Wood told The Ripple Effect.

"The pain from that was excruciating."

In the weeks that followed, the Woods learned the path of the drug Anna took, from the friend who sold the tablet, to the budding solicitor she bought it from, to the air hostess who carried it into Australia from Amsterdam.

Anna’s sister Alice with mother Angela and father Tony at Anna’s funeral.
Anna’s sister Alice with mother Angela and father Tony at Anna’s funeral.

Today, the Netherlands remains a primary manufacturing hub and exporter of MDMA.

A vocal opponent of pill testing, Mr Wood believes it wouldn't have saved his daughter.

The Coroner's report into her death stated the pill she took was pure MDMA.

Although she drank a lot of water, as advised when using the drug, her kidneys­ shut down. Her friends who took the same pill survived.

In the years since her death, Tony and his late wife Angela, who died in June 2016, committed themselves to spreading the message that drug use can only be tackled at the most basic level, between young people and parents.

He doesn't support harm reduction or the pro-legalisation lobby, believing it would be a "disservice" to Anna's memory.

"MDMA is the sort of drug that's idiosyncratic so you just don't know how it will affect anybody on any given day," he adds.

"Your peers tell you how good it makes you feel, so you want to do it with them.

"That's the scary part."

If you need help? Please call Lifeline Australia 13 11 14 - 24 hours a day, 365 days a year or in the event of a medical emergency, call triple-0 immediately.

Tony Wood with his late wife Angela.
Tony Wood with his late wife Angela.
Grieving friends of Anna Wood at her funeral.
Grieving friends of Anna Wood at her funeral.
Family, friends and classmates crowd inside the church for Anna Wood’s funeral
Family, friends and classmates crowd inside the church for Anna Wood’s funeral

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