Choking victim Sherry Campbell’s legacy will be lifesaving device in every Northern Ireland school
An organisation set up in memory of a woman who choked to death is aiming to fund lifesaving equipment for every school in Northern Ireland, just over a year after her death.
Sherry Campbell, an only child from Groomsport in Co Down, was found dead in the kitchen of her family home by her father Shannon in the early hours of September 7, 2017.
The 29-year-old, a special needs teaching assistant at Strangford College in Carrowdore, choked to death on a piece of meat.
She had died alone and had been unable to call out to her parents who were asleep upstairs and had their mobile phones on silent mode.
Following her death, her family set up The Sherry Campbell Foundation to raise awareness of the dangers of choking.
As part of its work, Sherry's friend Danielle Elmes (39) designed the LifeAlert app, which alerts friends and family that victims are in danger and uses their mobile phone's GPS to identify their location at the touch of a button.
Now, using the proceeds gained from the app and from funds donated to the foundation by supporters, it is planning to purchase around 1,200 LifeVacs - enough for every primary and secondary school here.
The non-powered portable suction device is designed to resuscitate a choking victim after standard protocol has been followed without success.
Mum-of-three Danielle says Sherry was "like a little sister" to her.
"Last Friday was the anniversary and it was a really strange, difficult day," she told the Belfast Telegraph.
"I can't believe it has been a year since Sherry's death.
"In that time the foundation has run some first aid classes, launched the app, and now we almost have enough money for LifeVacs, which the foundation is hoping to provide to every school.
"If someone has something lodged in their airway and other manoeuvres have not got it out, this device is placed over the mouth, creating a seal which pulls the object back out.
"It has already saved about 12 lives across the world where a standard procedure has failed.
"We are in discussions with the inventor, who has been part of the campaign since a few weeks after Sherry died, over the purchases.
"And after the LifeVacs are installed in schools we will show people how to use them.
"We have also had about 300 downloads of the app and I am now training to be able to provide first aid classes."
The work of the charity has already saved lives.
"Since we launched the foundation's website we have been contacted by a woman who said her son had saved her from choking to death after seeing the information on the page," Danielle explained.
"I hope that having these LifeVacs in schools could save other lives, and will provide reassurance to parents.
"Something positive has come out of this tragedy.
I do think that Sherry has been watching down on us doing all this work.
"I think she would be happy that people still remember her, and that she is remembered so fondly."
Sherry's grieving mum Fionuala described the first anniversary of her daughter's death as tough.
"I don't want any other parents to have to go through what we have went through," Fionuala added.
"Sherry's anniversary was totally raw, and reliving the horrendous moments I felt numb with grief.
"Thanks to the work of the foundation, everyone has become so aware of the dangers of choking.
"And having these LifeVacs in schools here will make a big difference.
"This is Sherry's legacy."
Fionuala has now returned to work at Strangford College, where Sherry also worked, and has received "unbelievable" support from the school community.
To mark what would have been Sherry's birthday on October 12, Fionuala says a group of her friends are planning to meet at the family home to celebrate her life.
"Sherry would have been 31, and I always think of what might have been and what she would have been doing," added her devastated mum.
"They say that it gets easier with time, but I haven't found that."
The foundation will hold a fundraising night at Bangor Football Club, Clandeboye Park, on Saturday.
To donate to the Sherry Campbell Foundation, visit www.thesherrycampbellfoundation.org.