Northern Ireland coroner warns of co-sleeping danger after five-month-old baby boy dies

A mother lost her five-month-old son after falling asleep with him, a coroner has found.

By Adam Kula
Saturday, 18th June 2022, 1:42 am
Updated Saturday, 18th June 2022, 11:50 am
Antrim Courthouse, where the inquest took place
Antrim Courthouse, where the inquest took place

An inquest has been told that baby Kelvin Olenin usually slept in his own room.

But his mother Jolanta Olenin – a factory worker who was on maternity leave at the time – had been cleaning his room using bleach, so Kelvin had been unable to sleep there on the night in question.

Delivering his findings, the coroner said that whilst the whole process must be hard on the family involved, it is important to know what took place so such deaths can be prevented in future.

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The inquest into Kelvin’s death took place last month in Antrim courthouse.

The written findings of the coroner have just now been obtained by the News Letter.

The tragedy began to unfold on September 26, 2020.

The written findings state that Jolanta, her partner Roman Olenin, and another unnamed male were at her home in McAuley House, Portglenone, on that day.

Coroner Joe McCrisken’s findings state that “there is evidence that all three people were drinking brandy and smoking cannabis”.

At 10pm Kelvin was washed, changed, and placed in his mother’s double bed to sleep next to her.

“He apparently was covered with a quilt and was wearing a one-piece sleep suit,” Mr McCrisken’s findings say.

“He usually slept in his own cot but, I was told, on that day his mother had been using bleach to clean a cupboard in his room and for this reason the room was not available for him to sleep in.”

The coroner heard that Roman and the unnamed male were initially staying downstairs, but at some point the unnamed male went up and got into the bed where Jolanta and Kelvin were – later telling police he did this because he was cold, and that he had thought the other man was in the bed. He added that he had not seen Kelvin.

Jolanta said that in the early hours of the morning Kelvin was found in the bed “blue and not responsive”.

An ambulance was called and the baby taken to hospital, but was pronounced dead at 5.20am on September 27.

INFECTION CONTRIBUTED TO HOW VULNERABLE HE WAS:

Kelvin bore “no signs of trauma, no external abnormalities and no marks of concern” nor were there drug or alcohol traces in his system.

However, there was evidence of “an early pneumonia developing in his lungs, principally affecting the left lung”.

Further testing showed “E-Coli and klebsiella oxytoca, two pathological bacterial species [and] in light of this finding the pathologist suggested that infection could have been the cause of death”.

The baby also displayed evidence of a pre-existing rhinovirus infection too.

The coroner’s findings go on to state: “The pathologist also considered the effects of co-sleeping, as this is a recognised risk factor in cases of sudden and unexpected death in infancy.

“The pathologist told the inquest that co-sleeping is well recognised as a hazardous sleeping environment in infants of Kelvin’s age, particularly following alcohol or drug consumption by an adult.

“The risks of co-sleeping include overlaying, CO2 rebreathing and hyperthermia [that is, overheating].

“It appears from the evidence of his mother that Kelvin was found in a bed with two adults who had both consumed alcohol and/or drugs.

“At five months of age he would have had sufficient motor control to move his head.

“Nonetheless, in the opinion of the pathologist there is a possibility that upper airway occlusion occurred which may have interfered with his breathing.

“I am satisfied that Kelvin was vulnerable in two respects on the evening/early hours of 26/27 September 2020.

“One: he was suffering from a viral upper respiratory tract infection and a developing bacteriological pneumonia which probably compromised his breathing to a small degree and;

“Two: he was co-sleeping in a bed with two adults who had consumed alcohol and drugs.”

CO-SLEEPING ‘INHERENTLY DANGEROUS’:

The coroner concluded: “Although co-sleeping is common in many cultures around the world, it is an inherently dangerous practice for young babies if not carried out in a safe manner.

“I am satisfied that these vulnerabilities [the co-sleeping mixed with his infections] combined to cause Kelvin’s death.

“I appreciate that these are difficult findings for parents to hear. My role is to accurately record the cause of Kelvin’s death and to identify any learning that might prevent further deaths.”

The NHS advises that there is “an association between sleeping with your baby on a bed, sofa, or chair” and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) - a poorly-understood cause of baby fatalities which seems to be influenced by a number of factors.

The NHS says it is “especially important not to share a bed with your baby if you or your partner smoke (no matter where or when you smoke, and even if you never smoke in bed), have recently drunk alcohol, [or] have taken medicine or drugs that make you sleep more heavily”.

The risks of co-sleeping are also increased if a baby had been born prematurely (as Kelvin was).

A charity called the Lullaby Trust offers advice on SIDS.

It can be reached by calling: 0808 802 6869.

It also has a specific bereavement line on the number below: 0808 802 6868.