It was every parent’s worst nightmare — an urgent phone call out of the blue on a Saturday afternoon. Gerard Harron and his wife rushed to Spallen community hall in Castlederg, Co Tyrone, after learning their daughter Clarice had been involved in an accident.
Claire Faulkner, the mother of a little girl whose birthday party inside the community hall was being attended by the Harrons’ daughter, urged the couple to get to the hall as quickly as they possibly could.
When they arrived they saw GP Brendan O’Hare had lifted Clarice off the floor and was carrying her into a waiting ambulance.
Londonderry Coroner’s Court heard yesterday how the tragedy unfolded on the afternoon of Saturday, November 7. Coroner John Lecky described the case as “one of the saddest he had ever heard”.
The court heard Nigel Gilbert, a parent of another child at the party, said that he was in the community hall when he heard “an awful scream from one of the children on the bouncy castle”. He said there were four or five adults in the hall at the time.
Mr Gilbert added that Clarice was being helped off the bouncy castle and another little girl told him she had swallowed a balloon.
He performed the Heimlich manoeuvre on Clarice in an attempt to dislodge the balloon. But when this didn't work he put his fingers down her throat but this too did not work.
Mr Gilbert said that the children in the hall were hysterical but he and his wife, who was a radiographer, performed CPR and chest compression on Clarice until Dr O'Hare arrived about 10 minutes later.
Dr O' Hare explained to the court that he had been in his garden when he was told about the incident.
He arrived at the hall and was able to remove the balloon which
he said was “a long way down but I felt it with my finger tip”.
Dr O'Hare said: “By the time I arrived at the hall Clarice was clinically dead but “it was absolutely important for us to continue our efforts in the hall and in the ambulance en route to Altnagelvin hospital”.
“Realistically there was nothing a non-medical person could have done to save Clarice and that only an emergency tracheotomy would have helped.
“The balloon was down at the level of her windpipe and in circumstances where there is already exaggerated breathing as there would have been with Clarice on the bouncy castle. Brain damage would occur within two minutes and death within four minutes.”
Dr O’Hare told Mr Harron that he should prepare himself for the worst as they prepared to travel to Altnagelvin.
Mrs Harron got into the ambulance with Dr O’Hare to take the journey to Altnagelvin with her husband following behind.
During the trip Mrs Harron even helped Dr O’Hare and the paramedic perform chest compressions.
All the while she prayed for “God not to take her daughter” and pleaded with Clarice to “hold on”.
When the ambulance arrived staff tried to help Clarice breathe but it was all in vain.
A statement from Mr Harron was read out in court by a coroner’s officer.
He said: “When we arrived Dr O'Hare had lifted Clarice off the floor and was carrying her into the ambulance. He told me I should prepare myself for the worst.
“When we got to Altnagelvin the staff there worked on Clarice trying everything to make her breathe but I could not take in what was going on. She just passed away.
“After half an hour they declared her dead and I formally identified the body of my daughter in the resuscitation room a short time later.”
Mr Leckey said the staff at the hospital continued attempts to resuscitate Clarice but at 4.45pm Clarice was pronounced dead.
He then found that Clarice died from asphyxiation after she swallowed a balloon.
‘I never imagined a balloon could kill’
By Donna Deeney
The broken-hearted parents of tragic Clarice Harron have urged other parents to be extra vigilant when letting their children onto bouncy castles.
Still visibly shaking after the inquest into their daughter Clarice's death, Gerard and Dreena Harron recalled how their “perfect little girl” was their best friend as well as their daughter.
Mrs Harron gave a warning to parents to supervise their children on bouncy castles at parties to protect them from the enduring agony they now have to live with.
She said: “Clarice loved bouncy castles and she loved parties but she died because she had a balloon in her mouth while she was on the bouncy castle.
“I would say to other parents to please, please watch your children closely when they are on bouncy castles and never ever allow children to have food, drink or especially balloons when they are on them.
“I never imagined how dangerous a balloon could be but now I wouldn't ever have one near me and I don't want any other mother or father to go through what we are going through.
“All children love bouncy castles. Maybe people will make more of a point now that they are well supervised.
“And definitely no balloons, or any food, anything that would cause them to choke. I wouldn't want anybody else going through what we are going through.
“She was our best friend as well as our child. We went everywhere together. If you were sick at all she was there to help you. Our house is so empty without her.”