Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Features

Accidents in the home: How our lives were changed in just a few seconds

As the Home Accident Prevention Strategy is launched today, two people tell Maureen Coleman why they're warning others of the risks

Every week in Northern Ireland, two people on average die as a result of an accident in their own home. According to statistics, more accidents occur in the home than anywhere else, with around 17,000 related admissions to hospital each year.

Falls are by far the most common accidents, accounting for almost half of all injuries, or deaths, in the home (480 fall-related deaths over the period 2001-2011), but hazards come in all forms, including poisoning, inhalation of smoke, strangulation by blind cords, drowning and choking.

Home accidents can easily be prevented by being aware of the dangers that are present in the home environment and putting in place interventions to minimise the risks.

In an attempt to reduce the number of unintentional injuries and deaths caused by home accidents, Health Minister Jim Wells today launches the Home Accident Prevention Strategy for Northern Ireland.

This strategy is concerned with the whole population, but has a particular focus on those who are most at risk - babies and children under five years of age, people over 65 and those with greater social, economic and health disadvantages.

These groups are more likely to have accidents and more likely to suffer long-term effects as a consequence of an accident.

We talk to two people who have personal reasons for supporting the new Home Accident Prevention Strategy for Northern Ireland.

'Losing my grandson in blind cord tragedy left us devastated'

Martin Regan (52), from Bellaghy in Co Londonderry, lost his 23-month-old grandson, Dean Regan Russell, in a tragic home accident in January 2011. Dean became entangled in the loop-cord of a roller window blind at his parents' home in Tralee, Co Kerry. Martin has been campaigning to highlight the dangers of blind cords ever since. He says:

I'm giving my full support to this campaign, because I am determined to make sure that other families don't go through what our family has gone through.

My grandson, Dean, died on January 7, 2011, just two weeks short of his second birthday. The accident happened at his home in Tralee on January 2, but in spite of attempts to save him in both Tralee and then Dublin, he passed away five days later.

Dean had been brought upstairs for his afternoon nap and his father, Michael, and my son Martin, Dean's uncle, had been in the room next door, putting away toys after Christmas and keeping an eye on him.

Michael went in to have a look and he was okay. Then Martin thought he heard a noise, went in and found him entangled in the cord.

Unfortunately, Dean's bed was too close to the window. At that time, there was next to no information about the dangers of these blind cords.

There were a few of Dean's toy cars found on the window sill, so we presume he was playing with them and then got curious about the hanging cord.

Dean was rushed to Tralee General Hospital and was given CPR on the way. The following afternoon, he was airlifted to Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Dublin.

The next day, the head paediatrician took us all into a room and told us Dean wasn't going to survive. I remember going outside to get a wee bit of time to myself and swearing that I would do my best to ensure this didn't happen to other families; that they would know of the dangers of blind-cords.

It just takes 18 seconds for a toddler to die, from the moment the cord goes round their neck to the moment they stop breathing. It's such a short time. We had those five precious days to talk to him and say our goodbyes. That time we got to spend with him was very important to us.

What happened to Dean tore my family apart; it devastated us. I lost my mum and sister within a few months of each other in 2010. There had been a lot of death in our family, but the death of a child is the worst thing that could happen to anyone.

We all just got on with it, though. What else can we do? It's a cross we have to carry.

What I would say to parents is make sure you are aware of blind safety. Go around every window in your home and get the proper safety devices fitted to suit the blinds.

Any reputable blinds manufacturer will tell you what you need to tie the cords up. There are different devices for different blinds. A full house will only cost £30 to £40 to make safe. And keep all furniture away from windows, especially in bedrooms.

I've done a lot of campaigning since Dean's death and I'd like to think it's had some effect, but it's hard to know.

There was one incident, though, that sticks out in my mind. I had taken one of my granddaughters to Euro Disney and was sitting in the airport in France on the way back.

I got chatting to this woman from Derry and I told her about what had happened to Dean. She told me she'd heard a grandfather talking on Highland Radio about his grandson dying in a blind-cord accident and that it got to her so much that, as soon as her husband came home from work, she sent him to the blind manufacturer to get what was needed to make the blinds safe.

When she finished her story, I told her that it had been me she'd heard giving that interview. She got up from the table and gave me a big hug.

She said the interview had really got to her and then she told me that I was making a difference.

The best way I can describe how my family feel now is that we have good days and bad days. I could be okay for a while, going about my daily business, then suddenly Dean comes into my head and my face just crumbles.

Things like Christmas and anniversaries are hard; he should've been starting school last September. But we just have to get on with things and, hopefully, help to stop something this terrible from happening again."

'I was lying at the bottom of the stairs in agonising pain'

Ita McErlean (57), from Portstewart, is home safety manager with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa). Ita fell down the stairs at her then home in Ballymena in 2007, ripping her quad muscle and fracturing her ankle. She had to take seven months off work and learn to walk again. She says:

I live in Portstewart now, but was living in Ballymena at the time of my accident. My son, Paul, who was 23 then, was home from Edinburgh and staying with me. I was due to bring him to the airport that afternoon and was planning to take the dog out for a walk beforehand.

I had gone upstairs to change into my trainers when the accident happened. The dog was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs and I was kind of running, when I went over on my right ankle. I have a weak ankle, so when I went over on it, I fell right down the stairs, the full flight, to the bottom.

There was a cement wall in front of me and, luckily, my instinct kicked in or I could've been killed. I used to do a lot of horse riding so knew how to roll over from falling.

I lay there, at the bottom of the stairs, in agonising pain. I was convinced I'd broken my leg. My son heard me screaming and came rushing out. He rang an ambulance and I was taken to A&E in Antrim Area Hospital.

Once there, I found out that I had torn my entire quad muscle in my left thigh. I stayed in hospital for four days. After the second day, they discovered my right ankle was fractured as well.

The pain of the tear in my left leg had been so bad I hadn't even noticed the ankle. After four days, they discharged me and I went to stay with my brother.

I was off work for around seven months, as I couldn't walk. I had to use a Zimmer frame to get me around the house. My daughter, Anna, was at home with me and was able to help me with a lot of things, like shopping. But it was still a chore.

My sick pay was also reduced after a certain time. I've always been an independent woman and the accident got me quite down. It was everything really, the pain, being confined to the house. I'd never experienced pain like it - it was excruciating.

I'd always had a good social life, too, and enjoyed exercising - walking, swimming, as well as the horse riding - and it depressed me not being able to do any of those things.

I couldn't even wear my good Christmas boots that Anna had bought me the previous year. I had to wear old woman's shoes. It was such a change in my lifestyle. Even taking baby steps from the settee to the kitchen took lot of effort and pain.

During that period of recuperation I had been getting physiotherapy and, when that ended, I was determined to get walking again. Every day I took it slowly, walking to the gate, or a few paces up the footpath.

I spent a lot of time on the computer, reading, or watching daytime television. I started to lose a sense of purpose, a sense of my identity.

Then, of course, there was the added knowledge that I'd been working as a home safety officer for Ballymoney Council at the time. People made jokes about that and I took on a lot of guilt. But if could happen to me, it could happen to anyone and that's the message I want to get out.

People need to take their time more, stop rushing about. Be self-aware, if there's a handrail, use it, wear appropriate footwear, be careful going downstairs. Falls are so easy to happen, a lapse of concentration and anyone can fall.

These days, I'm a lot more cautious around stairs, or heights. I used to take it for granted, running up the stairs and down. Not anymore.

Seven years on, I still have to have physio at times and I have problems with my feet and my back. I can go swimming and walking, though not hill walking, which I used to love. I'll never forget what happened to me - or the pain I experienced."

  • For further information on how to make your home safe, visit www.nidirect.gov.uk/your-childs-safety-in-the-home and www.nidirect.gov.uk/safety-at-home

Tips on cutting the risk at home

  • Reduce the risk of trips, falls and slips by removing unnecessary obstacles, ensuring your walkways have adequate lighting and quickly cleaning up spills
  • Ensure fires and heaters are well-guarded
  • Never overload an electric socket
  • Test smoke alarms every week
  • Take extra care when dealing with tea, coffee, or other hot liquids around children
  • Get your gas, oil, or solid fuel heating appliances professionally serviced once a year
  • Install a carbon monoxide alarm
  • Make sure all blind cords and chains are secured out of reach of young children
  • Keep medicines and cleaning products safely out of children’s reach, or locked away
  • Install and use restrictor catches on all upstairs windows and place furniture away from windows

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