WHITE-WASHED walls, a clutch of children’s toys, a line of flapping clothes. From the outside, the home of Gillian and Shane Malley looks like any other family home.
But inside, the owners of this recently built home in Carrigtohill, Co Cork, live with an unbearable burden — the tragic death of their two-year-old son.
A family picture taken on Christmas Day 2008 is perched on a tall, narrow table. Five faces beam back from this altar: mum and dad with children Jude, four, Arran, two, and 10-month-old Alexandria. Less than two months later, on an ice-cold Wednesday afternoon, this happy family was shattered.
While Jude was at Montessori school, Gillian was upstairs with Alexandria and Arran was watching a Diego and Dora DVD. Gillian was recovering from a minor operation on her leg and was under orders to rest. But with young children to look after she found it impossible.
“Alex got sick and I went downstairs to change her,” says Gillian, 35. Their au pair was downstairs too. “The house is timber frame and you can hear every sound. So I was listening downstairs as he was watching Dora. I heard his reading book fall off the bed.
“I went back upstairs to look for him. I remember climbing the stairs singing out: ‘Arran, where are you?’ It was a game he loved to play.” She went into his brother’s bedroom. The last thing she expected was to find him hanging from a steel-beaded cord attached to the window blind. “I couldn’t understand why his feet were not touching the ground.”
It didn’t take long for the shocking truth to sink. Gillian whipped the cord from around Arran’s neck and carried his limp body downstairs. An ambulance was called for but despite frantic efforts to resuscitate him by Gillian and the medical team, Arran was later pronounced dead in Cork University Hospital.
“I believed he was safe in the room,” says Gillian. “I never realised there was any danger there.”
Her husband, Shane, talks of a blame game. “There were two adults in the house at the time he died. But then I feel guilty when I look at the blind — I couldn’t work out how to shorten its cord. You forget a two-year-old can do so much. He was still in nappies.”
About a week after Arran’s death, Shane set about the grim task of replacing the upstairs blinds through another company. While he was waiting at the counter to be served, he saw two laminated newspaper articles under the glass counter top that stopped him in his tracks. They were accounts of other children who had died as a result of cord strangulation. Shane had believed what had happened to his son was a freak, one-off accident.
Shane wrote to the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI), pointing out that if a toy had caused the death of a child every single one would be recalled from the market. The authority, along with the National Consumer Agency, responded swiftly with an information campaign targeting industry and consumers.
Shane has also been in touch with Duncan Stewart from RTÉ’s About The House asking for blind safety to be covered. Both Gillian and Shane want to bring their story to national attention.
“We want to see these cords banned. It should be mandatory that all blinds come complete with a cord tensioner,” says Gillian.
They are determined no other child will die as a result of cord strangulation in this country. They want to see a ruling where all blinds with continuous cords must be installed with a safety device, as is the case in Australia.
“This is not a once-in-a-blue-moon event,” says Shane. “In America a child dies every two weeks because of unsecured blind cords — this includes Venetian blinds, Roman blinds, cellular blinds, corded roll-up blinds and vertical blinds.”
As they talk, they walk into Jude’s bedroom — the room where Arran died. It’s a typical boy’s room with a window overlooking the garden. The blind is new and spring-loaded. There’s not a hint of danger.
Next it’s Arran’s bedroom. And just like the boy had been, it’s bursting with life and colour. A Cars duvet keeps his casket of ashes cosy underneath, on top is an assortment of his favourite toys — a large penguin and a loved pink and white fat-bellied pig. Safety brackets brace each side of the bed. A pile of nappies and clothes lie on top of a pint-sized dresser.
“We close his curtains every night,” says Gillian. “The only way we can go forward is by still having him around. I want to concentrate on what we had and not on what we lost.”
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