A boy was found dead in his car seat after spending three hours in a parked vehicle in the Republic of Ireland on a warm summer's day, an inquest heard yesterday.
Clare County Coroner Isobel O'Dea recorded that hyperthermia, or overheating of the body, was a contributory factor in the death of 14-month-old Nathan Ryan on July 29, 2010 at a holiday caravan park near Spanish Point beach in west Clare.
Ms O'Dea recorded that the cause of death was sudden unexplained death in an infant, with hyperthermia as a contributor factor.
Nathan was on holiday at the Co Clare resort with his foster parents, Fiona and Liam Doheny, of Toureen, Ballysimon, Limerick.
Ms Doheny's mother, Maureen Burke, told the inquest yesterday that Nathan's death had not been caused by neglect. In her deposition, she said: "Nathan was well taken care of by my daughter, Fiona."
She added that Nathan was a "delicate child".
Ms Doheny told the inquest that Nathan was unsettled. She took him for a drive and put him in the seat in the back of the car at the caravan park.
However, when she saw that the child was fast asleep, she decided to sit out with her mother, Mrs Burke, on two deck chairs 10 feet from the car and watch him from there.
She said: "I left the driver's door open, with the window of the door slightly open. I checked Nathan three times while he was in the car."
Mother-of-two Ms Doheny said: "At 4pm, I went into the mobile home to heat a saucepan of milk for him and when I checked Nathan in the car, he wasn't right. He was still and I tried to wake him, but he remained still.
"I called Liam twice and screamed. I dialled 999."
The local GP, Dr Billy O'Connell, quickly arrived with another doctor. Along with a paramedic, they made frantic efforts to revive Nathan for 90 minutes before Dr O'Connell pronounced him dead at 5.30pm.
A Montessori teacher, Ms Doheny told the inquest that she and Mr Doheny had fostered children for the HSE for the past five or six years and that Nathan had been in their care since January 1, 2010.
Nathan's biological mother, Limerick woman Deirdre Byrnes, also attended the inquest yesterday.
State Pathologist Marie Cassidy told the inquest that the child was very well cared for and there was no evidence of trauma. She said that circumstantial evidence, including where the child was found, must be taken into consideration when considering the most probable cause of death.
The pathologist said that at 14 months, Nathan was at the outer range of cot death. However, he was a small child and therefore may have had an increased risk of death due to sudden infant death syndrome.
She said: "Research has shown that temperatures in a car on a hot day rise exponentially. In a young and undeveloped individual, whose central temperature regulation is not fully developed, a child may be less able to cope with a sudden rise in temperature."
Prof Cassidy found in her post-mortem that the cause of death was sudden unexplained death in an infant, with a risk or contributory factor being hyperthermia.