Don't leave kids alone in the bath, pleads coroner after inquest into death of baby boy Alex McCartney
A seven-month-old baby boy died days after he was found face down in bathwater when his mother left the room to boil a kettle, an inquest has heard.
The coroner at yesterday's inquest into little Alex McCartney's death issued a stark warning to parents over the dangers of leaving young children alone "even for a short period of time".
Baby Alex got into difficulties at his home in Co Armagh as he sat in the bath with his two-year-old sister.
Their mother, Joanne Pedlow, was alerted to the incident when the toddler screamed.
Desperate attempts were made to resuscitate the baby, but he died in his mother's arms four days later in the Royal Victoria Hospital after suffering a catastrophic brain injury.
Alex's mother and his father, Stephen McCartney, donated his liver, both kidneys and his heart to save the lives of other infants.
The inquest into his death heard how healthy Alex died from pneumonia, cerebral hypoxia and probable drowning on January 21 last year.
Joanne, a distribution co-ordinator, wiped tears from her face as she gave evidence. The 33-year-old explained to the court that she placed her youngest child into his blue baby bath seat beside his sister Lily after the pair had been playing outside in the snow on January 17.
She said the seat was secured to the bath by "three or four" suction cups.
"I then popped down the stairs to put the kettle on to wash the floor when my brother Richard and his partner Nicky came in.
"We chatted for about a minute when we heard Lily crying and the three of us went up the stairs.
"Nicky went into the room first, then Richard, but I didn't go in, and I heard Nicky squealing," she added.
Coroner Suzanne Anderson asked Ms Pedlow about the depth of the water. She said it was filled to the level of Alex's belly button, while Ms Anderson also pointed out a water level marker on a picture of the bath seat.
The mother-of-three added: "Richard rang for an ambulance and they talked us through CPR. I ran outside to get my neighbour and she came in and started working on Alex.
"He was quite a big child and was quite heavy, I think he had leaned forward and toppled it (the seat) over."
Nicola (Nicky) Barr told the inquest that she and Richard Pedlow were dropping off his daughter at Joanne's house.
She continued: "We found Joanne in the kitchen and she said she was bathing Alex and Lily because they had been out playing in the snow.
"Then we heard Lily screaming and we went up to see her, and I went in first.
"I looked in and saw Lily sitting in the bath.
"For a second I didn't see Alex, but then I saw his bum sticking out of the bubbles.
"I put my hands under him and tipped him over.
"His face was grey and lips were blue.
"I then lifted him out and saw the seat floating on its side.
"We took him out to the landing and started CPR.
"I took Lily down the stairs as she was squealing as she could see everything.
"We called his father Stephen and he arrived home at the same time as the paramedics."
Richard, who also gave evidence during the inquest, said he could see Alex's head in the water and rang for an ambulance after seeing his lifeless body.
In a desperate attempt to revive the baby, he lay little Alex in the recovery position.
"When we found him face down in the water I couldn't believe it," he added.
Paramedic Aidan Kelly was called to the family home where he found the group attempting to resuscitate the baby.
In a statement read to the court, he described how he couldn't find Alex's pulse.
"He was pale and cold to touch," the statement continued.
They made desperate attempts to clear his airway but Alex did not respond and was rushed to Craigavon Area Hospital.
Dr Samuel Lamont, a consultant paediatrician with the Belfast Health Trust, said the young boy suffered a catastrophic brain injury after being submerged in bathwater.
As the doctors were removing the life-support tubes from Alex, he took three or four small breaths, then died in his mother's arms. State Pathologist Dr Peter Ingram said that Alex survived for four days following the incident in the bath, but never regained consciousness.
The coroner said little Alex McCartney's death had been a tragedy for his family.
Ms Anderson expressed her "heartfelt sympathy" to his parents.
She added: "This has highlighted the important issue for parents about the dangers posed when a child is left unsupervised for a short period of time and even in the shallowest of water.
"Hopefully this message will serve to spare the agony this family has had to endure."