Belfast Telegraph

Family marks birthday of choking victim Sherry Campbell

By Victoria Leonard

The family of a young Co Down woman who choked to death are holding a series of events to mark what would have been her 30th birthday this week.

Sherry Campbell choked on a piece of steak last month.

A teaching assistant at Strangford College, Carrowdore, she was found dead in the kitchen of her family home in Groomsport by her devastated father, Shannon, in the early hours of September 7.

Last night, the first in a series of first aid classes focusing on choking survival took place in Donaghadee.

The classes are being hosted by the Sherry Campbell Foundation, which was set up by her family in the hope of saving other lives. So far, the foundation has raised over £4,000, and has secured potentially life-saving state-of-the-art equipment for use during the first aid classes, including anti-choking teaching vests and a 'throat plunger'.

The organisation is also fundraising for a special needs teaching assistant at Strangford College, where Sherry and her mum Fionuala both worked. This afternoon, a memorial service will be held in the school, featuring music and tributes from teachers and students who knew Sherry. And tomorrow, when she should have been celebrating her birthday with family and friends, a lantern and balloon release will take place on a beach near her home.

Sherry's grieving mum said the Strangford College service would be a "celebration of Sherry's life", and that she hoped the first aid course would prevent other families from having to endure the same suffering they had faced.

"It's not how we were expecting to celebrate her birthday, but we will be surrounded by people who loved Sherry," said Fionuala.

"The service at Strangford College will include a eulogy read by Sherry's former history teacher, Mr Boal, and feature music and tributes from a choir and pupils and teachers she knew.

"Sherry's lifelong friend Danielle Elmes will be addressing the crowd and talking about the work of the Sherry Campbell Foundation, and hopefully it will get more young people to attend the first aid classes.

"We wish that Sherry was here and that her death hadn't happened, but at the same time we hope that other lives will be saved by her legacy. It will give people life-saving skills which they wouldn't have had otherwise.

"On Thursday, her birthday, we will gather with her friends at a beach near our home to release lanterns and balloons. It will be a very poignant ceremony."

Speaking ahead of today's memorial service, Strangford College Principal Mark Weir said he hoped the event would "help Sherry's family make sense" of what had happened.

"Sherry's death has left a big gap in the school - she was much-loved, and we were very lucky to have her," he said. "This is very much a family affair, where Sherry's family can come together with staff and students to celebrate her life.

"The service will feature pictures of Sherry throughout her life, hymns sung by the choir and a eulogy read by Sherry's former head of year and history teacher Mr Boal. The children have been making a memorial memory book which they will present to Sherry's mum during the service.

"With the service taking place the day before Sherry's 30th birthday we hope that it will give us something to focus on - this is a big week for Sherry's family and friends."

For information on the first aid classes or to donate, visit the Sherry Campbell Foundation at www.thesherrycampbellfoundation.org

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