After the horror of losing her teenage son to carbon monoxide poisoning, Catherine McFerran was determined that no other parent should endure the pain she faced.
The 2014 Belfast Telegraph Mum of the Year winner suffered every parent’s worst nightmare when her son Neil (right) and his friend Aaron Davidson, both 18, died from carbon monoxide poisoning while on a holiday in Castlerock in August 2010.
Since their devastating loss, Catherine and Aaron’s mum, Katrina Davidson, have saved countless lives through the Gis A Hug Foundation, which they set up in memory of their sons.
The charity aims to ensure that no other lives are senselessly lost, by raising awareness of this silent killer and also distributing carbon monoxide monitors.
Catherine’s efforts have also seen the law changed so that it is now compulsory for every new-build home to have a carbon monoxide alarm fitted.
Catherine, from Newtownabbey, who works full-time and has three other children Jonathan (35), Stephen (26) and Jillian (24), devotes all of her spare time to the charity, which has given out thousands of alarms to the elderly, students and those vulnerable in our society.
It also aims to highlight the importance of having fuel-burning appliances serviced annually.
The Gis A Hug Foundation was named because Neil loved to give everyone hugs.
Picking up our award, Catherine said: “I couldn’t believe it, I just felt overwhelmed.
“I really thought, ‘it definitely will not be me’ and I was enjoying the night out with the family and was happy enough just to be there because it was such a lovely night.
“It was fantastic and lovely to hear so many inspirational stories. Everyone deserved an award.”
Neil and Aaron had been on a break in Castlerock before getting their exam results when they were poisoned by carbon monoxide because of a defective flue from a gas boiler.
They died on August 3, 2010, and were found by their parents, who went to the seaside town when they were unable to contact their sons.
Their friend, Matthew Gaw, was resuscitated by paramedics.
In January of this year, Londonderry man George Brown, who fitted the faulty boiler in the apartment where the boys were staying, admitted to causing their deaths. The charity in Neil’s memory has to date distributed 6,500 alarms to students, the vulnerable and elderly people in our society.
And Catherine says she won’t rest until every home is fitted with one.
She is constantly giving talks to schools, colleges and church and community groups on the dangers of carbon monoxide and the importance of having an alarm.
Life without Neil is still a struggle but the charity has given her and her family something to focus on.
She said: “It’s unbelievably difficult every day to keep going, but the charity is such a positive thing and that’s what sustains us.
“We started out thinking that to be able to save just one life would be great, but we know from feedback that we have saved a number of lives.
“There are still a lot of people who aren’t aware of the dangers.
“You can’t see it, you can’t smell it and without an alarm, you have no way of knowing it’s there.”
‘We started out thinking that to be able to save just one life would be great, but we know from feedback that we have saved a number of lives. The charity sustains us’