A coroner has urged parents to scour their homes for potentially lethal blind cords, after the harrowing details of a boy’s death were set out before his court.
Feliciano Saba, father of the tragic two-year-old, told an inquest that he and his wife are confronted with the anguish of their loss every day, and must rely on divine strength to help him through the pain.
Bryan Henriques Saba’s life support machine was turned off more than two weeks after the accident on September 11, 2015, when he choked himself on the drawstring of the window blinds in the living room of his home in Portadown.
Pathologist James Lynas told the hearing that Bryan was the third child he knew of who had suffered such a fate in three years.
Feliciano Saba and his wife Maria Jose are originally from Guinea-Bissau in west Africa, and moved to Italy in 1994. They married in 2011.
Mr Saba (a civil planning and excavation engineer) moved to Northern Ireland in February 2015, followed by his family soon after.
At the time of the accident Mrs Saba (a hydro engineer who has also trained as a health care worker) was in Italy – where their son Bryan had been born.
The Sabas set up home in a three-storey terrace in Goban Street, and on September 11 last year Mr Saba went off to work at food firm Moy Park.
Bryan was in the house with sister Edyneusa, 16, and half-brother Sindatche, 19.
There were no direct witnesses to precisely how the tragedy unfolded shortly after 2pm. It seemed the boy – about 2ft 11 inches tall – had climbed onto a settee before ensnaring himself in the cord.
Edyneusa was the first to find him, and frantic efforts began to raise help and resuscitate the boy.
He was taken to Craigavon Area Hospital, then the Royal Victoria Hospital, but had suffered substantial brain damage. He died on September 26, and his family donated his liver, kidney and adrenal glands for transplant.
“Bryan had been a healthy child, with no previous illnesses,” Mr Saba said in a statement to the court.
“Since Bryan’s death we’ve been existing from one day to the next – surviving on the strength that God has given us, to sustain us and our children emotionally.
“Not a day passes without me suffering continuous anguish when I get up and go to work. At home, we do our best to make sure the other children don’t suffer, even though we’re suffering, and trying to lead a normal life without forgetting Bryan.
“In fact, we’ve put a large photograph of Bryan in the living room to ensure Bryan is still in the family.”
The couple – who are from a Catholic background – remain in the Province where they attend Portadown’s Elim church.
Coroner Joe McCrisken said that despite efforts to improve safety, “there remain thousands, potentially tens of thousands of lethal looped blind cords” in Northern Ireland.
He dubbed them “silent killers of babies and young children that lurk in our homes and those of our relatives”.
He said that he was pleading with every parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle – or childminder of any sort – to “check and double check each and every blind in your homes, even if young children only spend a very short time there ... if you have an unsafe blind cord, replace it immediately – do not wait”.
He concluded: “I intend to use my powers to write directly to our new health minister, when appointed. I want my letter to be the first on his or her desk. In short, death from a blind cord should be a ‘never’ event.”
His letter will give details of Bryan Saba’s death, and inform the minister of the other two children who died since 2013.
Since 2014, the EU has tightened the rules around blind cords and chains. Before that, the only safety feature they had to come with were written warnings.
Now any newly sold or installed looped blind cords must break apart under 6kg of pressure, or have a device attached to the wall to stop it dangling and to keep it tight. However, it remains legal to simply keep older, less-safe blinds in place.
PRAISE FOR BYSTANDER WHO TRIED TO HELP
The family of Bryan Saba and the coroner himself reserved special praise for one bystander – Adam King, a 25-year-old graphic designer from Waringstown – for his efforts to save the boy.
Monday was the first time he had met Mr and Mrs Saba.
During a break in proceedings at the Laganside Court complex, Mrs Saba gave him a cuddle to thank him for his actions.
He had been sitting in a car on Goban Street on his lunch break when he noticed a young black man – who it later emerged was Sindatche – running down the street.
He looked on as the man stopped two people, and seemed to be gesturing that he wanted a phone. They “appeared to dismiss him”, and he kept on running.
Mr King opened his window, and could hear a female crying loudly inside a house.
He approached, then ventured inside and found Bryan “motionless on the floor” of a sparsely furnished room.
He called an ambulance, and stayed on the phone while the operator talked him through how to carry out mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
As the child’s aunt arrived and flew into a “hysterical” state, he attempted CPR and described the boy’s condition down the phone, before the ambulance crew arrived.
Though the Sabas spoke little English (their court testimony was given in Italian and then translated), Mrs Saba’s interpreter said: “For a long time she has wanted to meet Mr King. [She] just wants to say thank you for your help.”
The coroner said: “Those comments I will echo, both for myself, and on behalf of the community.”
Afterwards, Mr King told the News Letter: “My condolences go out to both of the parents.
“My efforts were incredibly minor in comparison with the efforts of the trained doctors and paramedics with proper equipment.
“I think they really deserve most of the thanks. I wish the parents all the best for the future.”