Belfast Telegraph

Tragedy of the 13-year-old girl who died after sticking her head into a helium-filled balloon

By Patrice Dougan

A teenage girl died after inhaling gas from a helium balloon - the first such death in Northern Ireland, it is believed.

Coral Jordan McDowell died after she stuck her head into a helium balloon and inhaled the gas — just days after her 13th birthday.

At her inquest in Belfast yesterday, Coroner John Leckey pledged to write to the First Minister asking for safety warnings to be issued about the dangers of the gas.

Earlier the court heard how just one week after celebrating her 13th birthday in November last year, the youngster, who was known as Jordan, was found unconscious in her bedroom with a helium balloon over her head.

The inquest heard how she had gone upstairs to use the bathroom.

When she didn’t return her mother went upstairs to check on her. Karen McDowell found her daughter lying on the floor of her bedroom with the pink balloon around her head.

The large foil-type balloon, in the shape of a number ‘3’, had been bought for her birthday celebrations as part of a pair which made up the number ‘13’.

Paramedics were called and fought to resuscitate the girl, but she was pronounced dead at the scene.

Mrs McDowell said she could only believe that her daughter had tried to inhale the helium to “get a squeaky voice”.

Assistant State Pathologist Dr Peter Ingram said neither he nor any of his colleagues had ever come across a death in this manner.

Coroner Leckey said it was “alarming” that the balloons contained no warnings.

“The worry is there are birthdays every day of the year and balloons of this nature would be very attractive to children,” he said.

Mr Leckey said the family’s concerns “are my concerns”, and vowed to write to the relevant body and the Stormont Executive about the case, and the dangers helium presents.

He recorded that Jordan died from a “combination of the effects of helium and suffocation from a balloon which contained no warning of the dangers of the gas inside”.

Her heartbroken mother failed to hold back tears throughout the proceedings, and afterwards said it had been a struggle for the family to cope with Jordan’s death.

“We’re getting there,” she said. “Slowly but surely. We have two wee ones to keep us going, it’s the only thing that’s keeping us going.

“Hopefully this will stop someone else getting hurt and a family doesn’t have to go through what we have gone through. It’s the worst thing ever losing your child.”

Background

Coral Jordan McDowell - known as Jordan - died on November 14, 2010 after inhaling helium from a balloon and suffocating. The Monkstown Community School pupil had just turned 13 the previous week.

At her funeral the teenager, from Newtownabbey, was described as a “ray of sunshine” and a “young lady who had something special”.

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