A Laois toddler suffered fatal injuries after falling into a paddling pool in the garden of her childminder’s home last year, an inquest has heard.
Hannah Kealy (2) from Cremorgan, Timahoe, Co. Laois, was formally pronounced dead at Children’s Health Ireland at Temple Street in Dublin on July 24, 2022.
A sitting of Dublin District Coroner’s Court on Tuesday heard the young girl had been discovered lying face down in the paddling pool four days earlier shortly after being dropped off at her childminder’s house by her mother.
Marie Kealy told the inquest that she had driven to the home of the childminder, Ann McDonald, at around 8.20am on the morning of July 20, 2022, to drop Hannah off before going to work herself.
Ms Kealy said it was only her daughter’s third day back with the childminder after Ms McDonald had come back from holiday. She said Hannah had been a bit nervous about being back with the childminder after a break but they had reassured her that she would have a great time in the paddling pool.
Ms Kealy said she then received a call at around 10.24am to alert her that Hannah had got into the paddling pool and was not responding. Fighting back tears, she recalled being told to make her way to the Midlands Regional Hospital in Portlaoise.
“It took a minute to digest what was going on,” said Ms Kealy.
After arriving at the hospital, she told the coroner at the inquest, Cróna Gallagher, that she did not know “if Hannah was going to live or die”. She said her daughter was brought to theatre in the hospital to stabilise her for transfer to CHI at Temple Street by special ambulance.
The inquest heard that the toddler was declared brain stem dead on July 23 before being formally pronounced dead the following day. In reply to questions from the coroner, Ms Kealy said her daughter had been attending the childminder for one-and-a-half years and was familiar with Ms McDonald’s house.
She also observed that her daughter had been in great form.
In evidence, Ms McDonald said Hannah had been pottering around her kitchen after being dropped off at her house and asking where her own children were. “It was just like any other day,” she remarked.
Ms McDonald, who wept uncontrollably throughout the hearing, said she gave Hannah breakfast at around 9.30am after which she was drawing in a colour book and “reading a story book she loved”. The childminder said Hannah was still pottering around inside her house when she went to the back door to see another parent, Karen Lawlor, and her children who had arrived.
Ms McDonald said she stayed talking at the door to Ms Lawlor for a while and then thought she heard words about Hannah being in the pool before the other children rushed into her. When she went to check, she found the girl lying face down in the paddling pool.
Ms McDonald said she put Hannah in the recovery position and started screaming Ms Lawlor’s name to see if she could get help. She told the coroner that she believed she had left the patio sliding doors which led to the paddling pool closed but could not say that definitively.
Ms McDonald said it was possible the patio doors had been opened by the other children but Hannah would not have been able to open them on her own. The childminder, who said she could not see the paddling pool from her back door, estimated she had been talking to Ms Lawlor for no more than five minutes.
Ms Lawlor told the inquest that she had dropped her three children off at the house at around 10.05am and believed she had only spent “2-3 minutes” talking to Ms McDonald. The witness said she was “fairly sure” that she saw Hannah going back into the kitchen area of the house.
Ms Lawlor said she was reversing her car when she heard the childminder screaming her name and could see from her face that “something was seriously wrong”. She said her own children were upset and screaming, while she recalled Hannah’s face being “really pale” after she was taken out of the pool.
After failing to detect any pulse in the girl, Ms Lawlor said she started compressions on Hannah’s chest which resulted in water squirting out of her mouth. The inquest heard the defibrillator from the local GAA club was in Ms McDonald’s house at the time and was used to apply two shocks to the victim.
Ms Lawlor said paramedics who arrived a short time later detected a weak pulse after treating her in an ambulance. Her husband, William Lawlor, also gave evidence of being called to the scene and assisting his wife in providing CPR to Hannah.
The inquest heard medical staff at the Midlands Regional Hospital, Portlaoise, had quickly assessed that the girl had suffered a significant period without oxygen.
Dr Gallagher said post-mortem results showed the girl had suffered a brain injury as a result of a drowning incident, while a contributory factor was pneumonia she had acquired as a result of falling in the paddling pool.
Garda Brian Kelly from Stradbally Garda station, told the inquest that he found a toy tractor on its side next to the paddling pool. Garda Kelly said he believed Hannah had stood up on the tractor in order to get into the pool.
He described the inflatable pool as the largest one he had ever seen and said it was “up to my knees.” Garda Kelly agreed with the coroner that it was bigger than the standard paddling pool and he estimated the depth of the water in it at 2-2½ feet.
He said he did not believe that the girl would have been able to swing her leg over the side of the pool to get into it. The inquest heard there was a covering over the pool to prevent debris like twigs from getting into the water, but Garda Kelly said it would not have prevented anyone from accessing the pool.
Returning a verdict of accidental death, Dr Gallagher said there were no words that she could offer on such “an appalling tragedy” to lessen the pain of Hannah’s family. “It just occurred out of the blue with no warning,” the coroner observed.
She said Hannah was given every chance by how people had reacted in the immediate aftermath of the incident. “If she could have been saved, she would have been but unfortunately it was to no avail,” Dr Gallagher remarked.
The coroner said she had been informed by Organ Donation and Transplant Ireland that Hannah’s organs had been used to help others. She praised the girl’s parents, Marie and Denis, who attended the hearing with their newborn son, for the courage and generosity they had shown “at the most difficult time of their lives.”