A Derry mother has described her daughter as “a miracle child” who defied all the odds to recover from a near death experience unscathed. Here she speaks for the first time of her family’s ordeal to warn other parents about the dangers of choking for young children.
Maddison McNally was just nine and a half months old when a discarded plaster became lodged in her windpipe causing her to choke so severely that her lungs began to fill with her own vomit.
Maddison and her mother, Natasha along with her family were holidaying in Moville at the time of the accident and according to the Derry mum of three, it was only “sheer chance” that her daughter was discovered choking before she died.
“That was the first day Maddison crawled,” Natasha said. “She had just been playing around the floor and had fallen asleep. We had no reason to suspect anything was wrong. She was fine, breathing normally and after she fell asleep I took her through to the bedroom to put her down in the travel cot. She seemed absolutely grand.”
A short time later Natasha’s oldest child, Tiegan, who was just three at the time, announced she needed to use the toilet and despite there being four toilets in the family’s holiday home Tiegan “made a whole fuss” about using the ensuite attached to where baby Maddison was sleeping.
“My mammy took Tiegan into the room and then called me. She said the baby was breathing funny. She was lying face down and she was making a strange rattly sound. We lifted her and she just went limp. Her eyes rolled back in her head and she went blue and I started screaming out of me.
“I had done first aid, but I just forgot everything. I was hysterical. I think I just went into shock.”
Maddison’s grandad, Fraser Anderson happened to be in the house and Natasha said that while she and her mother, Susan, fell to pieces he took control of the situation.
As the family were in Moville they were told the nearest ambulance was in Carndonagh and they would face a 40 minute wait. So it was up to Grandad Fraser to follow instructions from the emergency services to keep baby Maddison alive.
“I was convinced she was dead,” Natasha said, “But Fraser shouted at mammy and me to go into the living room and stay there while he gave her CPR.”
Fraser said he stayed calm during the ordeal because he “had to”.
“It just had to be done and I kept going because she was still, just about breathing - but every time I stopped I could just see her fade away. She didn’t even look like her - she had no life about her, no expression on her face, she looked as though she was gone.”
The family still had no idea what had happened to Maddison. One of the first things Fraser had been asked to do was checked that her airways were clear - and there was nothing in baby Maddison’s mouth. The plaster, which she must have picked up while crawling, was lodged in her windpipe - and was flapping with her staggered breaths. It was due to this that when Maddison was sick the vomit was not able to escape through her mouth and instead was breathed into her lungs causing to her begin drowning on her vomit.
Very much a doting Grandad, Fraser kept working on his baby grand-daughter until the paramedics arrived and took over. He then travelled in the back of the ambulance with Maddison while Natasha sat in the front.
Due to the severity of baby Maddison’s condition, the family were re-routed to Altnagelvin and not to Letterkenny as expected. Natasha said she will never forget listening to the paramedics talking as they drove back to Derry - “they said her heart rate was dropping, that she was in trouble. They were trying to keep me calm but I could hear them talking to each other about her condition.”
Once the ambulance reached the border they were met with a police escort which raced them to the hospital where Natasha said they were greeted with a crash team.
“It was like something you would see on TV. I couldn’t believe it was real. They were cutting her clothes off her, putting a tube down her throat, putting tubes into her arms - working on her while we just looked on.
Taken into resus, Maddison had tubes inserted into her arms, head and groin. The family were told her situation was so critical that Altnagelvin were unable to treat her and that she would be taken to theatre, put on life support and transported to the Royal in Belfast.
The family were given the devastating news that there was a high chance baby Maddison would not survive, and that if she did she may well be brain damaged due to oxygen deprivation.
Natasha was also told that she would not be able to go in the ambulance with her daughter - so she had to say her goodbyes in Casualty.
“She was just lying there, on this big bed, all wrapped up and strapped down, tubes coming from everywhere. They gave her the Last Rites and I had to say goodbye. I just kept saying to her ‘You’re only sleeping. It’s time to wake up now, baby’.
“I knew she had to go to Belfast without me. We would just follow behind but that was so hard, so, so hard. I kept thinking what if she died on the way up and there would be no one there with her that she knew? It was unbearable.”
On the journey to Belfast, Natasha admits she found herself thinking about her daughter’s funeral while trying to make sense of everything that happened.
“We just couldn’t believe it - everything had just turned on its head.”
However baby Maddison defied the odds and survived the journey to Belfast. While the family were warned that things still looked bleak, they took that as a sign that she was a little fighter.
And she would further defy the odds by rallying round remarkably within just 24 hours.
“By the next day she was off life support and off the respirator. My mother walked up to her and said ‘Let me smell your feet’. It was always their wee joke and when Maddison lifted her foot up we knew that she was okay and that she was going to be okay.”
Maddison has recovered almost completely - the only side effect from her trauma is that her lungs have suffered some minor scarring which make her more susceptible to chest infections.
“We never felt we could talk about it before now.” Natasha said. “It was always so raw but now, two years on, we felt it was the right time.
“For one we want to warn parents about choking risks. It can be something as harmless as a wee plaster - when you think, your wain gets one after their immunisations and they could just put it in their mouth.
“We’re very cautious now - we don’t allow balloons or the like in the house. We have seen the damage choking can do.
“But we also wanted to say thank you to everyone who helped save Maddison. The paramedics, who were amazing, the police, the hospital staff - everyone went above and beyond in what was a horrible time for our family.”
Most of all perhaps Natasha wants to thank Maddison’s grandad, Fraser who, she says saved her daughter’s life.
“Without him, I’ve no doubt we would have lost her. She would have been gone. And that doesn’t bear thinking about.”