‘Her face was going blue’: Mother’s CPR training saved toddler’s life

Melinda Hickey feared the worst when she found daughter Therese floating in pond

Melinda Hickey (second left) and her daughter Therese are pictured with emergency workers Orna Williams, Connor Hoey and Daniel Kenna who helped the Hickey family when Therese was found unresponsive in a pond in their garden in Co Monaghan last year. Photograph: Mary Byrne

Melinda Hickey (second left) and her daughter Therese are pictured with emergency workers Orna Williams, Connor Hoey and Daniel Kenna who helped the Hickey family when Therese was found unresponsive in a pond in their garden in Co Monaghan last year. Photograph: Mary Byrne

 

Melinda Hickey knew something was wrong almost as soon as her little girl did not answer her call one morning, in the summer of 2020.

However, she did not realise a nightmare scenario that every parent dreads was about to become her reality.

It was a warm day on the August bank holiday weekend and the family was getting ready to head out. The front and back doors of their home in Monaghan were open and Melinda and her teenage son, Lorcan, called out 19-month-old Therese’s name as they wanted to get on the road.

Melinda walked from her car around to the front of the house towards an ornamental pond that had repeatedly been drained as a baby-proofing measure, but continued to fill back up with rain water.

“She was floating in it,” Melinda recalled.

At 39-weeks pregnant, getting her daughter’s limp body out of the water was difficult, but a combination of instinct and adrenaline helped her to manage. She urged Lorcan to get help and immediately started performing CPR on Therese.

“She was unresponsive and her face was going blue and I could hear the water gurgling in her lungs,” Melinda said. “I was trying to push the water out, almost as if I was doing the Heimlich manoeuvre, and then I started the CPR.”

Melinda had learned CPR as part of her job as a healthcare assistant. Lorcan had called 999 and alerted a neighbour, who raced to the scene.

The guards were just fantastic. One held my hand all the way and told me exactly what was going on. I was in shock but you just have to put your faith in the experts

She said the emergency services phone operator talked her through what needed to be done and told her that if anyone could help with the CPR she should make sure to call on them for support.

“I didn’t want to do that at first and I kept going but I knew I was getting tired so Ian, my neighbour, started doing the chest compressions and I started doing the breaths,” Melinda said.

“The gentleman on the phone was fantastic .He kept telling me where the paramedics were. They were 10 minutes away, five minutes, two minutes. And when they arrived he told me not to stop until they actually got to where me and Therese were.”

The little girl was airlifted to CHI at Temple Street in Dublin but the prognosis was not good. Melinda was told there was only “a tiny glimmer of hope” and that even if her daughter did pull through, the brain damage could be catastrophic as her heart had stopped twice and it had been 50 minutes from when she fell into the pond to when she got to the emergency department.

While Therese was being resuscitated by medics, Melinda was being driven by gardaí to the hospital as her late-stage pregnancy meant she could not travel in the air ambulance.

“The guards were just fantastic. One held my hand all the way and told me exactly what was going on. I was in shock but you just have to put your faith in the experts.”

In a way it is a miracle but I don’t want to take away from all the human interventions. Sometimes the system does not always gel but in this case... [it] saved my little girl

A month after her daughter was admitted to Temple Street, she was released.

“She is just perfect,” Melinda says before pausing to acknowledge that there are other parents who have not had such positive outcome from similar incidents.

“I know we had a good outcome and I really feel for the parents who have not. We had a month of suffering and I think that helps us to relate to others who have not had a good outcome.”

She knows how close her family came to the worst of outcomes and keeps going back to her knowledge of CPR.

“No one else in my family knew how to do it. It was only me. I told a nurse that I just did what anyone would do but she said you’d be surprised at how many people panic in these situations.”

Melinda is aware that her composure and training helped save Therese’s life but she stresses there was a long chain of others who played vital roles.

“In a way it is a miracle but I don’t want to take away from all the human interventions. Sometimes the system does not always gel but in this case everything came together and that is what saved my little girl.”

According to National Ambulance Service director Robert Morton multiple ambulance resources were dispatched, including an emergency ambulance, an intermediate care vehicle, a community paramedic, the AC112 helicopter as well as a local fire unit and the Garda Síochána.

To mark Restart a Heart Day on Saturday and increase awareness of the importance of CPR, the National Ambulance Service organised a reunion at the Castleblayney ambulance station, in Co Monaghan, for all those involved in saving Therese.

In attendance were the first paramedics to arrive, the ambulance call takers and dispatchers, local fire brigade members and the child’s hospital doctor.

Training event

Restart a Heart Day is an annual training event on October 16th relating to cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and defibrillator use.

The aim of Restart a Heart Day is to bring awareness, education and training to the general public in order to increase the likelihood of lives being saved in the event of a cardiac arrest, as the early moments after this occurs are critical and a trained person on the scene can make the critical difference.

If someone suffers a cardiac arrest their chances of survival double if it happens in front of a bystander who immediately rings 112/999 and starts CPR before an ambulance’s arrival. If not, every minute without CPR will reduce the chance of survival by 7 to 10 per cent.

People interested in information about CPR can email cfr@hse.ie